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Learn to research, create a change: Alhambra nonprofit offers lab experience to young students

With several lab benches for experiments, a robotics lab, a fabrication shop with machine tools and 3D printers, and a wind tunnel for testing aerodynamic designs, the Jisan Research Institute (JRI) welcomes students to its science lair.

The Alhambra nonprofit is the only professional lab to offer students research experience, and it’s on a mission to teach young people how to conduct research and use what they learn to create change, said president and Alhambra resident Dr. Sanza Kazadi.

“We advocate scientific research that will enhance school systems and create change in the world while positively impacting kids,” said Kazadi, who holds a doctorate in computation and neural systems with a specialization in swarm engineering, the study of how independent agents affect one another.

Students at JRI discuss their work.

JRI works with 25 students at a time, ages 13-18, to explore scientific problems facing the world. Since its founding in 1995, more than 140 students have gone through the program at the privately funded nonprofit, and almost 75 percent have gone on to top colleges and graduate schools like Caltech and Harvard, according to Kazadi.

Focusing on environmental research, JRI students work for 2-3 years with a Ph.D-level scientist specializing in their area of research. These mentors guide the students through their work, whether they are focusing on computer programming or mathematics, in the classroom or in the various labs or shops at JRI.

Students are currently developing wind power resources using a floating axle technology patented by the lab in 2009 and 2012. “It is our expectation that this will enable us to take advantage of lower speed wind rather than the high speed winds required by conventional turbines,” Kazadi said.

JRI separates student training into five levels. The first two build basic lab and research skills, and the last three focus on research. The program ends with publication in a peer-reviewed conference or journal, sometimes including a trip to a conference to share research.

JRI alumni John Lee attended the World Congress on Engineering and Computer Science held at UC Berkeley in 2007 when he was a junior in high school. “It was nothing like I had imagined. Instead of seeing other high school students, I saw scientists and researchers who stood around talking about their work and research interests,” Lee said. “I was stunned that our swarm economics group was probably the only group of high school students in the entire conference.”

JRI students present research.

With his college-level research experience and skills in software programming and hardware, Lee went on to UC San Diego, where he said he was accepted into a material science lab as a machinist because of his experience at JRI.

“I recommend any high school student whose goal is to pursue a Ph.D. degree to attend and experience what JRI can offer to you,” Lee said. “I'm glad I did and never regret spending countless hours at JRI over my high school career. JRI is the only place that I know of where you can get research experience as a high school student.”

JRI programs are tuition-based, but the organization offers waivers if families qualify. The lab is located at 308 S. Palm Ave., and hours are by appointment only. Parents and students interested in enrolling can make an appointment by calling (626) 458-0000 or visiting the JRI website.

A version of this story was published in Around Alhambra.

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  1. Good to read about positive events