Chemistry at work

By Anna Carrera |

Published 07/02 2015 06:12PM

Updated 07/02 2015 06:12PM

Copyright 2015 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Some kids may be out of school for the summer, but others are hard at work. They're doing research at Millikin University.

It's part of a program to help high school students learn on a new level. And three young women are stepping up to the challenge. They're working on new ways to treat cancer.

The faculty members overseeing the research say they've never had high school students help with this kind of work, but they've made good progress so far and they're not done yet.

The Millikin University campus is a lot quieter during the summer months. But inside the science center, three teenagers are trying to crack a serious problem: cancer.

"I like it," said Perri Grimes, who is a senior at Eisenhower High School. "I like to do hands on things with chemicals or things like that."

They're meeting the challenge together, experimenting with different ideas. It's part of a problem many have seen first-hand.

"If you've ever had anybody in your life that's had cancer, what they do is treat them with radiation and chemotherapy and they get really sick because it's not just killing the tumor," said Paris Barnes, who is an associate professor of chemistry. "It's killing the entire organism or the entire person."

The goal is to stop that from happening, but that's a lot easier said than done.

"[They're working with] particles that are about 1/20,000th of a diameter of a hair, so they're very very small," said Barnes.

"I'm learning a lot more about precision and measuring," said Alison Harris, who is also a senior at Eisenhower.

"They're as advanced as our typical undergraduates really, which is great because they're in Decatur public high school," said Anne Rammelsberg, who is an associate professor of chemistry.

Before the teens graduate high school, they're getting college level experience in a working lab.

"I'm actually really into science and I was deciding on animal science or environmental science, so I thought this would be a good experience to see what this is all about, see it it's right for me," said Harris.

It's basically a summer job: eight hours a day, five days a week for two months.

"It's teaching me work ethic because the hours, it's hard for me to wake up early and stay late and do things like that, so its teaching me how to be able to handle this kind of stuff," said Grimes.

Organizers say they found just the right group for the job.

"Chemistry has about 33% women and a much smaller number of minority students as well," said Rammelsberg. "To have students that fall in both those categories this summer is great."

The program is about halfway in the books, but the teens are still excited about the opportunities they could discover.

After the summer session wraps up, some undergraduate students plan to pick up where the teenagers left off. The young women may be able to come back next year to continue their research.

Copyright 2015 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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