Independent Research Program provides students with the opportunity to broaden their horizons in science


Credit: Andrew Ying

Senior William Crainer presents his findings about microbial communities of frogs as a culmination of the Independent Research Program. In addition to reading about their topics, participants in the program also preform experiments. Crainer collected data at Mianus River Gorge in Bedford, NY, where he plans to intern this spring.

From microbial communities of amphibians to subarachnoid hemorrhage, the Independent Research Program provides students with the opportunity to choose a field of scientific study they are interested in pursuing. The students in the program reach out to scientists and ask to be mentored through shadowing their various projects. Dr. Andrew Ying, physics teacher and Coordinator of the Independent Research program, explains the hard work and dedication this year’s students have given to the program. Dr. Ying describes the students as showing “resilience when things do not go smoothly” and said all participants “complete the lofty goals that we set each cycle, and oftentimes go above and beyond that.”

Senior William Crainer is a member of the Independent Research Program and is studying the relationships between the microbial communities of frogs and tadpoles, and the factors which are most influential in determining each of these microbial communities. Will describes the research as an effort to understand how “to manipulate the frog microbiome”, which will help in the development of more efficient methods of bioaugmentation. More efficient methods of bioaugmentation will allow for a decrease in extinctions of amphibians around the world.

By the end of his senior year, Will hopes to have a review paper published with supplemental data from this study and be a co-author of a larger study with his mentor Zach Gajewski from Virginia Tech.

Will has been interested in frogs since he was young. “I have a pond in my backyard and I have been around them and catching them and fascinated by them for my entire life. To me, they are some of the most interesting and varied creatures on the planet and to be able to work with them and help conservation efforts has been a dream come true.”

Junior Taylor Robin has been a member of the program for the last two years and was first intrigued by circadian rhythm and how a person’s sleep cycles affect a person’s body. However, Taylor has had the opportunity to work at the Cerebrovascular Lab at Columbia Medical Center, and her focus shifted to subarachnoid hemorrhage, which she describes as a “type of brain bleed that patients suffer from if they have a stroke or an aneurysm burst.” Subarachnoid hemorrhage is a very serious issue that is caused by a head injury or an aneurysm. One-third of patients will survive with good recovery, one-third will survive with a disability, and one-third will die.

Taylor is currently working on writing a review paper discussing biomarkers, and how they have the potential to predict functional outcome after a patient has suffered from subarachnoid hemorrhage. Taylor has thoroughly enjoyed the Independent Research Program and describes her favorite part as experiencing real research as a sixteen-year-old:

“I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity to work with noteworthy researchers in their field, giving me hands-on practice of what it’s like as a scientist.”

The Independent Research Program is a great resource for students who are interested in expanding their scientific knowledge in various fields of study. Students who are interested may contact Dr. Ying.