Student Scientists Stay Close a World Away

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Could a chemical compound found in a common insect, the maggot, have the potential to kill many types of dangerous bacteria? For the past year and a half, four high school students have worked to answer this question by collaborating on a research project using Facebook.

The students aren't a typical scientific team. Joanne Guidry and Robbie Daitzman are high-school seniors in Washington, D.C., while their partners on the project, Troy Tan Sheng En and Darren Choo, are students across the globe in Singapore. With several thousand miles between them, the four young scientists have used Facebook extensively to keep in touch and share their results.

Although the students started merely as academic partners, they have also become close friends. In October of 2008, a month after beginning the project, Troy and Darren visited the American students to work out the details of their procedures as well as to experience cultural traditions like trick-or-treating. Anxious to be reunited again, the Americans planned a reciprocal visit to Singapore for the following summer, when they presented their research findings in front of a panel of Singaporean judges.

During the 10 months in between visits, Joanne said the students used Facebook Chat extensively as "an effortless venue for communication about our project, our day, ourselves—anything and everything. Facebook helped to bridge the gap, and made it feel a little less like we were living halfway around the world."

Upon their arrival in Singapore, Joanne and Robbie worked tirelessly with Troy and Darren to finalize their presentation—effort that was well worth it when the team received top scores and took home the second-place prize.

After celebrating with sightseeing and shopping at Orchard Central, Singapore's famed 11-story mall, the foursome once again parted ways for home. However, through Facebook they continue to nurture their growing friendship. Joanne is particularly grateful for the ability to share photos and videos with both American and Singaporean friends.

"My photos and videos are like an online scrapbook that I have access to wherever, whenever, with little blurbs and personal comments from the Singaporeans," Joanne said. "I love how I can just look back and reminisce."

The significance of Joanne and Robbie's project goes beyond their successful identification of the peptide responsible for the maggots' interesting effects. Though the students' partnership started professionally, it has evolved into a unique and meaningful international friendship as well.

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