The prognosis looked good for Mr. Teddy Bear under the care of Emily Barnes.
This Middlesex Township youth has had a love for math and science since elementary school.
As a child, she used to draw mock injuries on stuffed animals. Barnes would then go into the bathroom to combine different kinds of soap into a treatment to remove the symptoms.
“I’ve always been interested in medicine,” said Barnes, now 17 and a senior at Cumberland Valley High School. “I like mixing things together to see what would happen.”
Her passion carried over into the classroom and made Barnes stand out among seventh-graders enrolled at Eagle View Middle School.
That year, she was one of about four female students selected to attend a seminar on women in the sciences. The goal was to encourage more girls to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering or math.
“It was a pretty impactful day,” Barnes said. “I met a lot of women who were super empowered and really passionate about their jobs. One of them was a chemical engineer who talked about what she did. I found it absolutely fascinating. I thought maybe I can see myself doing that.”
She didn’t have to look far for more inspiration. Her father Patrick is a chemical engineer and a huge influence on her. He pushed her to stay challenged and to take as many math and science courses as possible in high school.
Barnes has progressed to Calculus 3, a curriculum so advanced the College Board has yet to develop a test for it. She is one of six students in the class.
“I really like going through the process of solving an equation knowing there is only one correct answer,” Barnes said. As for science, she has taken that passion on the road.
Starting in eighth grade and continuing her freshman and junior years, Barnes has participated in the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science competition and the Capital Area Science and Engineering Fair. Her high school entries earned Barnes first-place awards at the regional and state level.
The quality of her work has gotten the attention of higher education and the science community. Barnes has earned a Penn State University Special Award from its Eberly College of Science qualifying her for a partial scholarship. She has also earned a Yale Engineers Association Award, a Wolfrum Mathematics Award, an American Chemical Society Award, a Sustainability Award from Arizona State University and a Johns Hopkins Search for Talented Youth High Award.
Like the woman who inspired her, Barnes has taken on a leadership role in mentoring future scientists and engineers. She is the president and cofounder of the Science Fair Club at Cumberland Valley High School that started last fall.
Barnes and a couple of her classmates came up with the idea their junior year as they were traveling last spring to a state competition after qualifying at a regional science fair. The club was inspired by a leap in the complexity level of science fair projects between middle school and high school contestants.
“Once you get into high school, there are a lot of kids working in labs doing really in-depth research,” Barnes said. “The projects become a lot more sophisticated. You have to start doing statistical analysis, which is difficult for some [students] because they’ve not had any experience with that.
“We all went through the process,” she said of the club founders. “We all knew it was a difficult thing. We wanted to help out some of the younger students by giving them more direction.”
Organizing the club began over the summer after Barnes and her classmates convinced Michael Floreck to serve as the club adviser. He is the supervisor of science for the Cumberland Valley School District.
Meetings have been scheduled throughout the school year to help younger students develop projects, brief them on the criteria for statistical analysis and critique them on how to improve their science fair presentations. The club posts tips and reminders online through Schoology, a learning management system used by the school district.
There are about 20 freshmen and middle school students involved in the club along with a dozen upperclassmen. The leadership core of three seniors includes Barnes and two other students who will graduate on June 2. “I hope the other students will keep it going,” Barnes said. “We want to make sure the younger students have a solid foundation.
“It was pretty empowering getting first-place,” said Barnes of her success at science fairs. “I worked in a lab for both of my projects. It gave me that boost of confidence. It reinforced the fact that I could probably do a major in science.”
Barnes is exploring a career in biomedical engineering because the field represents the intersection of chemical engineering and medicine. She is particularly interested in regenerative medicine, which uses stem cells to grow organs and tissues.
Outside math and science, Barnes is a distance runner active in high school athletics. Last fall she was captain of the Cumberland Valley girls’ cross country team and hopes to serve a similar role on the girls’ track and field team. She has been active in both sports since her sophomore year.
“For me, it’s therapeutic,” Barnes said. “Going out for a long run you clear your head after a long day of stress.”
Barnes and her family are active in organic farming and have donated fruits and vegetables to the Project SHARE food bank in Carlisle. She has also volunteered her time to the CV Mini-Thon and as a helper at events run by the Middlesex Township parks and recreation department.