At Project Exploration, all of our student programs provide opportunities for youth to meet and work with professional scientists and graduate students. It’s no surprise, then, when some of these relationships blossom into long-term mentorships.
One mentorship opportunity that has emerged this summer is for All Girls Expedition team member, Constance, a 12th grader at the University of Chicago Charter School – Woodlawn campus. Constance has teamed up with All Girls Teaching Fellow and Women in Science member, Heather King. Heather is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago’s Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy where she studies lungfish motion.
While in Yellowstone National Park, Heather discovered Constance’s interest in car mechanics. When Constance was young, she was always interested in how cars move and how their engines work. To answer her questions, Constance turned to her uncles who were always fixing their cars. “I helped work on their cars in their garages. They taught me vocabulary and terms about mechanics, ” says Constance. In fact, her knowledge about car mechanics has improved so much that neighbors ask her to fix their cars in the summer and on weekends. As she says, “I love engines!”
Constance’s natural interest in mechanics and her school work have resided in two separate worlds. When she joined the All Girls Expedition team this summer, she learned about Heather’s work in biomechanics – the study of how living organisms move. For Constance, the mechanics of car function was a direct connection to understanding how animals move.
On the plane trip from Yellowstone, Heather encouraged Constance to visit her lab at the University of Chicago. That invitation has now turned into an internship that Constance will begin in September. Constance will be helping Heather collect data on lungfish movement.
While most fish swim, lungfish use tentacle-like fins to walk on the freshwater floor. Older studies have described their motion as salamander-like, which is incorrect. In fact, no one has formally described lungfish movement accurately. Heather’s dissertation will be one of the first quantitative studies to describe the biomechanics of lungfish locomotion. Why is this research important? Lungfish are more closely related to four-limbed organisms , called tetrapods, than any other living aquatic organism. Understanding lungfish movement will provide us insight into the evolution of tetrapods, like us!
Throughout the fall, Constance will be collecting digital data and recording video of lungfish in Heather’s locomotion experiments. She is particularly excited about the opportunity to contribute to a study that will change the way people have traditionally viewed lungfish. Constance describes science as a way to find things out for yourself, ask questions, and debate evidence.
Constance’s internship is just one example of the opportunities that science in out of school time provides for connecting with students’ natural curiosity. In her words, “All Girls Expedition has altered my view of science. I thought science was studying one simple thing, but now I realize that in science, many things connect.”
Congratulations on your internship, Constance! Thank you Heather for being such a great role model and mentor!