With every second, each student moves closer to the surgical subject: a 2-foot long Humboldt squid, also known as El Diablo Rojo, or the Red Devil. The scientist conducting the dissection grabs a scalpel and slices through crimson skin into the body. A saline ooze gushes out from the squid as the young students "oooh" and "aaah" in amazement. Their eyes stay frozen on the squid; the only sound heard is the splashing of gentle waves into the tide pools below.
The students participating in the dissection are part of the RISE (Raising Interest in Science and Engineering) Summer Internship, sponsored by Stanford University's Office of Science Outreach. RISE selects students from high schools across the Bay Area who normally wouldn't have the opportunity to enroll in a high-quality science program — teenagers who want to do more with their summer than hang out.
Earlier in the summer, the youth learned how electric vehicles are designed, researched colony behavior in insects, and observed surgery procedures at Stanford Hospital.
The purpose of the program, which was created in 2006, is to "focus on serving kids who are under-represented in the science community," Director of Science Outreach Kaye Storm said. Eighty percent of the 2010 RISE interns are the first members of their family bound for college, she added.
This year, the select 22 worked on the Stanford campus in the fields of biology, engineering and computer and educational sciences, with each student assigned a project in one of those fields.
Jackson Campbell's specialty was paleontology, or the study of prehistoric organisms. More specifically, Campbell studied "the effect of the variation of atmospheric oxygen levels throughout the Phanerozoic on the size of foraminifera tests."
While that might be intimidating to the layperson, Campbell finds complex microbiology interesting. He knew he wanted to work in science at the age of 9 after watching a documentary on the science behind the AIDS virus, HIV.
Campbell, a soon-to-be-senior at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, said he loves studying how certain organisms live and interact. During the squid dissection, Campbell was constantly asking questions.
"Is it possible to see the brain?" he asked. "Do squids rely on a peripheral vision to hunt?"
His curiosity drives his scientific learning.
"My philosophy is if I know how certain things function, then I can find ways to fight them," he said.
At first, he found working on the Stanford campus "a little intimidating," but the feeling faded because RISE provided him with the "encouragement and support to complete his projects."
Now Campbell has the confidence to pursue a career in science. Although both of Campbell's parents went to college, he will be the first to study science.
Campbell said he would be happy studying microbiology at Stanford, UC San Diego or UC Santa Barbara.
A longer version of this story is posted at www.PaloAltoOnline.com.