Founded this year, HARPS, or Hopkins Authentic Research Program in Science, is one of the newest science electives at Hopkins. After completing the year-long experimental design course, the program gives students an opportunity to participate in hands-on scientific research at a lab program.
The course, along with the required summer research, is worth 1 ½ credits and is only available to juniors.
During Term I, students concentrate on learning and executing certain biological and physical techniques and completing guided experiments. In Term II, the students begin to narrow their focus to a certain area in science and begin to look for potential laboratories for their summer work.
HARPS began as an idea developed by science faculty Phillip Stewart, Benjamin Taylor, and Joshua Young. Young and Taylor are now cohort teachers to Priscilla Encarnação (Dr. E), who was hired to run the program and to turn HARPS into a reality. “HARPS was an idea that existed before I even came here,” said Encarnação, who is new to Hopkins this year.
The HARPS classes take place on the second floor of Malone in a science lab which, according to Taylor, “is more state of the art than Yale’s chemistry lab.” The HARPS students have access to a variety of advanced materials and equipment, such as “centrifuges, micropipettes, spectrophotometers, and a -80 degrees Celsius freezer,” said HARPS student Kiarra Lavache ’18. Neal Sarin ’18, another HARPS student, said, “The lab has more than I know what to do with. Apparently we have most of the equipment necessary to clone somebody…”
The purpose of the class is to prepare students with the skills and knowledge that are necessary for working in a real lab in order to better understand possible future professions. Naomi Roberts ’18, one of Encarnação’s HARPS students, said, “I love HARPS because we get to explore so many different areas of scientific research rather than solely focusing on one as you usually do in a high school science class.”
A HARPS student is required to work in a lab for a minimum of eight weeks over the summer and then to share his or her work with the faculty in the fall of Senior Year during a poster session. The top presenters will be invited to deliver a talk during the Fall science seminar.
Acceptance into the HARPS program requires departmental approval and an application process that begins in the winter of Sophomore Year. It is a fairly competitive program and “around forty students applied this year for only sixteen slots,” said Encarnação.
This year, about half of the Sophomore Class is expected to apply. Taylor explained that the number of spots is purely based on space in the lab and that the students accepted aren’t all straight “A” students, but rather those who show a more inquisitive side and have a genuine love of learning.
Last year, students applying to HARPS were required to do an analysis of a science article detailing what it was about, why it interested them, and how they could use that information moving forward. As last year was the pilot year for the program, the application process is subject to change.