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A Different Kind of High-Throughput Screening

The 1536-well microtiter plate — or its even higher-capacity siblings — is likely familiar to most Science Careers readers, whether as a practical laboratory device or as a metaphor for high-throughput screening, a technique that has become ubiquitous in drug discovery. But who says high-throughput screening has to involve robots?

This article in Consumer Energy Report describes a very different approach to churning through and screening a large number of candidate compounds, in a context very different from the drug-discovery lab: high school students doing solar energy research.

Caltech researchers are utilizing the hands and minds of Pasadena, California, high school students to assess a range of compounds to see which have the most promise for use in solar energy conversion.

While high school kids may not have indefatigable precision of laboratory robots, they have other advantages: for one thing, the potential to become great scientists someday. The high school students are mentored and advised by CalTech graduate and undergraduate students. Instead of doing rote training experiments with no connection to scientific inquiry, they learn something about real science and real life. “They’re learning to negotiate through disappointments,” said Patty Tsai, a CalTech alumna who teaches AP chemistry at one of the local high schools. “That’s a good skill to have as a human being.”