AKRON, Ohio - Some teenagers in Akron don't have their high school diplomas yet, but that's not stopping them from being on the cutting edge of scientific research.
A unique partnership, now in its second year, combines bright students from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron with leading scientists at the University of Akron.
Vincenzo Volpe, a sophomore, is studying ways to synthetically recreate spider silk and examining how the insect's sticky properties can be used in the medical field.
"It could even be put into humans to use as tendons, repair tendons," Volpe said.
Senior Matt Schwenning's polymer research could lead to lighter, more flexible solar cells.
"It's kind of pioneering technology at the moment," Schwenning said.
Alex Pianalto is working on quantum dots. It's high-tech work that could help detect cancer.
"The opportunity for me to get a chance to actually work with something that could potentially detect cancer or save someone's life, it's just huge," Pianalto said.
The students and their teachers work with professors from the University of Akron College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.
Mary Jo Chionchio is the chairperson of the science department at St. Vincent-St. Mary and the project director of the program which joined some of her students with the university's scientific team.
"Young people need inspiration to pursue challenging careers that really will make a difference in the lives of others," Chionchio said.
The research teams are always looking for scientific breakthroughs, but they've already made a surprising discovery. At times, the professors learn from the curious high school students.
"Sometimes the kids come here in a lab and they ask such a strange, but simple question and we have to rethink our strategy completely from start," said Dr. Ali Dhinojwala, from the Department of Polymer Science.
Dr. Alamgir Karim, the goodyear chair professor for the Polymer Engineering Department, added, "When they (high school students) pick it up and they know how to do, they're just as good (as graduate students), so it's amazing."
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