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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 15, 2007

UI Research Program Participant Named Semifinalist For 'Junior Nobel Prize'

A high school student who participated in the University of Iowa's Secondary Student Training Program -- a summer research program for teenagers -- was named a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search, America's oldest and most prestigious science competition, often called the "Junior Nobel Prize."

Marissa Fox attended the UI program for six weeks last summer, conducting her award-winning research under two mentors from the College of Liberal Arts and Science's Department of Psychology: Ed Wasserman, Stuit Professor of Experimental Psychology, and Olga Lazareva, assistant research scientist.

At the UI, Fox, 17, of Long Island, N.Y., examined pigeons' ability to categorize artificial and natural stimuli. She tested the birds' ability to discriminate between color photographs of cars, chairs, flowers and humans. The data were gathered to improve the understanding of perceptual categorization, with a goal of using the information to help brain-injured individuals who have difficulty with categorization.

"I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was able to do on my own through the program," Fox said. "Of course, I received amazing guidance from Drs. Wasserman and Lazareva, but they let me do a lot of work on my own, too. I learned a lot about how research is carried out and felt very thankful that I was granted such an opportunity to work in a real lab day in and day out."

Fox is the second veteran of the UI program to be honored in Intel's esteemed contest. Also selected was 2002 participant Jonathan Levin, Wasserman said.

"We clearly attract extremely bright and motivated students from all over the U.S. to come to Iowa to be apprentices in research," Wasserman said. "We are most fortunate to have had two such students conduct such well-regarded work in our laboratory. Special credit goes to Dr. Lazareva for her direct supervision of these young people."

Begun more than 40 years ago, the Secondary Student Training Program is housed within the Division of Continuing Education. Each summer, it attracts 20 to 30 high school students, mainly juniors. For six weeks, the students live on campus and work full-time, conducting research under the guidance of faculty mentors in fields such as chemistry, biology, biochemistry, internal medicine, psychology, oncology, physics, pharmacy, speech pathology, pediatrics and biomedical engineering.

Organizers say the program benefits the students and the university.

"It's a phenomenal opportunity for a student to be a part of ongoing research," said Will Swain, director of the program. "Many undergraduates contact me and say, 'How can I get involved in a lab?' so for a high school student to get to do this is just fantastic."

In turn, UI researchers benefit from the students' help, and the program serves as a recruitment tool for the university. The experience of living on campus for a summer and working closely with UI faculty and staff has prompted several of the bright, talented students to attend the UI, Swain said.

March 11 is the deadline to apply for this year's Secondary Student Training Program, which runs June 17 to July 28. Participants can earn college credit, and scholarships are available. For more information, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Nicole Riehl, 319-384-0070,; Program: Will Swain, 319-335-3876