Thursday, August 25, 2016

Taking A TRIP Toward a Career in Science

Photos by Evan Brandt
The morning and afternoon session groups of this summer's TRIP Initiative at Temple University were very patient about parents taking photos.

While many of us were cavorting on beaches, mowing lawns or tending to the barbecue over the summer, a group of students from throughout the region were particularly focused on the health of flies.

No, not the kind of flies you shoe away from your lemonade, or scrape off the end of a swatter, but the kind you experiment on for six weeks and then present your results to peers and other scientists.

Dr. Amanda Purdy, right, introduces Pottstown student
MaSofia Sosa 
as she begins her presentation last week.

It was all part of a program called the TRIP Initiative, which stands for Teen Research Internship Program, a comprehensive science research training program for high school students interested in scientific careers and a collaboration between Fox Chase Cancer Center and Temple University.

Oh, and by the way, it's free.

Two of the 16 students who took part in the program this summer on Temple's Philadelphia campus were rising Pottstown High School seniors Dylan Brandt (full disclosure: he's my son) and MaSofia Sosa.

All the students, some of whom were as young as 15, conducted their tests on Drosophila melanogaster, also known as common fruit flies, which, the presentations all noted, share 70 percent of their DNA with humans. That makes them useful test subjects for probing theories about how humans would respond to the substances the students tested.

Pottstown High School student Dylan Brandt presents the results
 of his study of the impact of garlic on the health of fruit flies.

The hypotheses tested varied almost as much as the personalities and backgrounds of the students

For example, one student tested the impacts of caffeine on male fertility, while another wanted to see if the files are affected by electro-magnetic fields.

One student studied the impacts of sleep deprivation, by keeping a light on the flies 24 hours a day, and another, who told the audience that she uses prescription adderall, wanted to see if the files developed some of the same symptoms she has.

The program, held two half days a week over the course of six weeks, is led by Dr. Amanda Purdy, manager of academic programs and training at Fox Chase Cancer Center and a former adjunct biology professor at Montgomery County Community College.

Pottstown High School engineering teacher Andrew Bachman,
who taught both Brandt and Sosa last year, was on hand for
the final presentations last week.
But the students chosen for the program from among a sizable pool of applicants are chosen by students who participated previously in the program. They review the applications, which include a number of open-ended problem-solving questions, and choose the participants without knowledge of the name, sex, race or home high school of the applicants.

After learning laboratory skills -- how to "sex" and separate flies for example -- the students propose an experiment and, once approved, have to design it to answer the questions posed by their hypothesis.

At the end of the program, each student makes a roughly 15-minute presentation to their fellow students, parents, and several Fox Chase scientists and Temple graduate students who helped in the lab.

Here is some video of Sosa at the start of her presentation:

In addition to describing their experiment, their methods and the conclusions they reached, they also outline their mistakes (my son killed many flies by accident), what they would do differently, and what the results suggests by way of future research.

This is the first year Pottstown students have participated in the TRIP Initiative and Purdy said the program is open to students from any area high school.

You can reach her via e-mail at


  1. Congratulations to MaSofia and Dylan! What a fabulous opportunity for both of you!! You make us Proud to be from Pottstown!

  2. Congratulations to MaSofia and Dylan! What a fabulous opportunity for both of you!! You make us Proud to be from Pottstown!

  3. Congratulations to Dylan and MaSofia. And to the parents who guided them.
    This is another bragging point about Pottstown.

    Dan & Polly Weand
    ! ! ! ! !

  4. What a fun and exciting opportunity! Great job, Dylan and MaSofia! :)

    Ms. Rieger