ISM Students To Do Cancer Research In Switzerland

Article by: Kay S.

Edited by: Lauren Z.

Photo from: Rappler

Every year, the Astronomy Club participates in the CERN Beamline for Schools Competition. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. Participating teams must submit an experiment proposal, and the two winning teams are flown to Switzerland, all expenses paid, to carry out their proposed experiment using a particle beam in the CERN lab.

At the end of last school year, the Astronomy Club’s team, ‘the Beamcats’, were picked out of 195 teams worldwide as one of the winners! The Beamcats consists of 4 ISM alumni: Aarushi Taneja, Ashish Tutakne, Charvie Yadav, and Yash Karan, and 2 current seniors, Sae Joon C. and Sana S. This talented group is currently heading to Switzerland and will be away for two weeks.

To win, the Beamcats developed an experiment that would determine the relationship between the energy of a π− meson beam and its ability to “penetrate and react with a carbon-based, non-biological material” to determine the viability of “pion therapy” to treat cancerous tumors, as compared to the known methods of proton therapy or chemotherapy. Normally used to treat cancer, chemotherapy targets the whole body as opposed to a particular tumor. Pion therapy could offer more direct treatment and destroy cancer cells more effectively.

Senior Sana S. comments that they have been competing for a number of years, and it is “quite difficult to even procure a spot on the shortlist due to the innovative ideas and solid scientific theory” that they have had to propose. Their winning experiment had been in the works for 2 years, and the Beamcat team had to overcome plenty of odds along the way. Although Sana was president of the Astronomy Club last year, she found it particularly difficult to try to keep up with the physics of it all, due to her background in biology. Because of this, she tried to push for the biology aspect in the experiment, which came of its own difficulties later down the road. They were not allowed to include any biological material in the testing, and they had to come up with a material that could imitate biological tissue in a cancerous cell.

“This is an extremely unique opportunity to conduct research that is on the forefront of the medical studies happening today,” Sana says. “Normally, this kind of experience would only come after earning several degrees and working in many labs for years. I hope to learn what it means to be at this level of research and understand what considerations have to be taken into account when doing such abstruse work.” She notes that it will be extremely difficult, but expects to learn a lot from it. She is also very excited about working with her team as well as getting to know people from the other winning team and their backgrounds.

When asked about missing the Battle of the Bearcats (BOB) for the competition, she says, “As a senior, BOB is supposed to be one of the most iconic moments of all of high school. I’m extremely disappointed to be missing it.” However, with that being said, going to the CERN lab and conducting her own experiment is a once in a lifetime experience that she is extremely lucky to have, so she is definitely ecstatic to be going.

Although it’s a shame that the seniors on the Beamcat team will be missing BOB, this is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they shouldn’t pass up. Good luck and safe travels, Beamcats!