Apurva Belsare of Mount Prospect just turned 16 and hopes to get his driver's license in the coming months. But in the world of science, he's a researcher whose findings are already drawing notice.
Belsare was one of 35 teens to be named a winner for excellence in research after he completed the six-week STARS program last summer for aspiring science researchers. The program is sponsored by the University of Missouri at St. Louis (UMSL).
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Belsare won the LMI Aerospace Inc./D3 Technologies award. Papers were judged on complexity; appropriate methodology and findings; as well as the quality of the writing and overall research process. His paper was reviewed by senior scientists from UMSL; Southern Illinois University Edwardsville; Monsanto; LMI Aerospace Inc.; and Confluence Life Sciences.
"I knew I wanted to do something with science this summer, but I wasn't old enough to get an internship," says Belsare, a junior at Prospect High School. "So I applied to research programs."
The STARS program recently notched its 25th anniversary of providing pre-collegiate research opportunities to students. It pairs them with top research scientists and gives them real life experience in the lab.
Belsare studied an early detection method for breast cancer that involved imaging the tumor. He completed his research in the optical radiation lab at Washington University's medical campus in St. Louis, alongside a pair of mentors, Dr. Samuel Achilefu and Dr. Ming Zhou.
"I thought research would be pretty individualized, but it turned out to be a team effort," says Belsare, who also competes on Prospect's varsity swimming and math teams. "That's what I liked about it."
Belsare says he likes chemistry the best of all the sciences and consequently chose that field to concentrate on during his research. Together with his mentors, he used chemistry to synthesize a new compound that targeted cancer cells. By using a fluorescent dye, he and his team of investigators then were able to see the tumor.
Scott McDermott, an associate principal at Prospect, says having a student being acknowledged for his scientific research is rare.
"You just don't see it happening at the high school level," McDermott says. "His work is pretty significant."
Belsare already was showing his math proficiency in eighth grade at Lincoln Junior High School in Mount Prospect, where he was one of three students to take accelerated geometry at Prospect.
"I always liked math and science, and I figured this (research program) would be a good, hands-on experience to get a feel for what a career in science would be," Belsare says.
Still, he's not committing to a lifetime in science just yet. His father works in the finance field and his mother in computer science. Belsare says he wants to keep his options open.
At this point, he likes chemistry and finance. Maybe one day, he'll figure out how to combine them both.