Nowhere in the 57-page program for Des Moines University’s 8th annual Research Symposium was the name Harry Potter (the name of a real live discoid South American cockroach, not the fictional boy wizard) to be found. But he was a big hit at the afternoon poster/project presentations.

Harry’s handlers are DMPS seniors Sandy Le (East High) and Tiffany LeMaster (Roosevelt). As students in Kacia Cain’s anatomy & physiology classes at Central Campus, they collaborated with her and DMU professor Muhammad Spocter on a project about hands-on ways to make such classes more, well, fun.

According to their poster, this was their challenge:

Successfully implant a microstimulator into the peripheral sense organ of a cockroach and test the effects of neural interferences on the ability of the cockroach to navigate through a maze.

Le named Harry. She gets attached to their subjects.

“The first one was named Romi because he liked to roam all over,” she said. “But he was killed by Hannibal the Cannibal.”

The manner of poor Romi’s demise notwithstanding, Le described cockroaches as “very social.” No wonder you never see just one when you turn the light on.

Le wants to be a researcher. Not LeMaster.

“I want to practice medicine,” she said emphatically. Maybe she’s a surgeon-to-be. Harry looked no worse for wear after the procedures she performed on him.

There were nearly 600 attendees at this year’s symposium and a record number, 74, of oral and poster presentations. Only four of the presenters are high school students and three of those are students of Cain’s.

In addition to Le and LeMaster, Tuan Truong, a Hoover senior, was there to explain about the “gyrification index of the domestic dog.” That project involved postmortem MRIs that evaluated the cortical folding and white matter of the canine brain. It’s complicated. Le was involved in that project too, as were fellow researchers from, oh, let’s see here, Department of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, the Department(s) of Radiology & Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NY, the Department of Anthropology at George Washington University and the School of Anatomical Sciences @ University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

That’s pretty heady company for teenaged scientists. Like Le and LeMaster, Truong aspires to a medical career. Thanks in no small part to their high school head starts, all three will likely get there.

Now back to the project aimed at making high school science more fun.

Besides “Roboroach,” Le and LeMaster, et al. also imposed another challenge upon themselves:

Optimize the use or design of an electronic prosthesis so that a physically impaired individual can clasp an object with the help of electrical signals generated from their facial muscles.

Spocter recruited some volunteers to attach the electrodes and give the spiker shield claw from an inexpensive kit called Backyard Brains a try. The exhibit drew a crowd like a popular attraction at a carnival midway.

But it was a med school research symposium and the soft-spoken, cerebral “barkers” were high school students.

For more about the Research Symposium, visit the DMU web site.

Photos from the DMU Research Symposium

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