About the PGSS Program

In this age of information explosion, scientific research
is constantly developing new frontiers and the technology
with which to conquer them.

It is understandably difficult in terms of budget, scheduling, and heterogeneous talents among student bodies for local schools to deliver the front line in science and mathematical experiences to students with special abilities and talents in these fields. The Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences met this need by providing a program in mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry, and biology that emphasized hands-on laboratory research and the sophisticated technology and facilities available at Carnegie Mellon University.

The Selection Process

The PGSS Student Application Form will be made available in mid-October, with an application deadline of January 31. The application consists of four parts. The applicant completes the personal data form, attaching essays. Two teachers, a science teacher and a mathematics teacher, complete reference forms. The applicant’s guidance counselor completes a recommendation form and attaches the student’s transcript, attendance record, and test scores and class standing, if available.

PGSS typically receives over 500 applications each year from students with excellent academic records, evidence of sustained interest and outstanding performance in science and mathematics, and high standardized test scores. Participants will be chosen from the pool of qualified applicants from all across the state. The competition is very intense. A selection panel, comprised of PGSS administration, Carnegie Mellon University faculty, and state education officials, convenes to read the applications. All parts of the application are taken into account, with emphasis on the student’s written expression and ideas conveyed through the essays, as well as the transcript. The teacher and counselor forms are read for evidence of the student’s daily work habits, attitudes, curiosity, independence, and reliability.

In order to achieve a broad geographical representation, at least one student meeting the selection standards is selected from each intermediate unit. The balance of students meeting the entrance standards are selected with the objective to provide a reasonable number of students from major population areas, but not denying deserving students from rural areas, maintaining a male/female ratio as close to unity as possible, and including as many under-represented minority students as possible. Nearly all the students selected to attend the PGSS accepted this honor and the scholarship to attend.

Who Can Apply?

Academically talented high school students who are residents of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and are current juniors at the time of the application deadline may apply to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences. Applicants will be expected to demonstrate academic achievement, interest in the sciences and mathematics, and a record of pursuing this interest in activities beyond the classroom. Applications postmarked after this date will not be considered.

Costs and Commitment

Tuition, room, board, instructional materials, and costs of program activities are provided free of charge to students who are selected to participate. Families are responsible for students’ transportation to and from the program, pocket money for personal needs, and for a residential life deposit which is returned if all conditions are met at the end of the program. Students are expected to remain on campus for the full five weeks of the program. Visits home are not allowed. Students are expected to arrive promptly for all classes and program activities.

PGSS students are also expected to be fully committed to the program and to all of its activities. This may involve making a choice between attending PGSS and other competing summer activities. PGSS students will have some free time each day. However, the PGSS program does not make special provisions for regimented athletic training and does not make arrangements for access to competition-level practice facilities for music or dance during the program.

No high school or college credit is given for PGSS courses completed by the students. The students who apply and participate in the School are expected to be motivated by their desire to satisfy their own natural scientific curiosity. In addition, they are not ranked academically with each other. No grades are given. They are expected to satisfy all the requirements in order to obtain the state certificate awarded to them upon completion. However, no competitive motivation is provided. They are expected to work hard, study hard, and complete their research projects in order to satisfy their desire to do well.

Curriculum, Faculty, & Facilities

Core Courses

To keep apace with the rapid changes in professional scientific inquiry, PGSS courses change from year to year. The courses and research opportunities listed below provide a general picture of the experiences students can expect. Students are required to take all the core courses at first but may drop one core course after the second week, provided that they have been carrying at least one elective course. The following are examples of recent core courses:

  • Biotechnology of HIV and AIDS: Examining how biotechnology is used in the development of the anti-HIV drugs, the molecular interactions between different drugs and their targets, and the causative agent of AIDS.
  • Organic Chemistry: Treating the methods of preparation, reactions, and uses of some of the important functioning classes of organic compounds.
  • Concepts of Modern Physics: Including special and general relativity, basics of particle physics, and the particle/physics cosmology interface.
  • Discrete Mathematics: Looking at mathematics in a new way, using elementary combinatorics, graph theory, probability, and game theory.
  • Computer Science: Using a mathematical approach to data organization, text compression, and cryptography.

All students have also been required to participate in the following core activities for the duration of the program:

  • Leadership: A workshop in which students are taken through a step-by-step method for planning and implementing a service project making use of their scientific and mathematical talents in their home communities.
  • Lectures and Tours: Guest lectures by prominent scientists and tours of local facilities engage in modern scientific technology.

Laboratory Research and Team Projects

Students select one laboratory course from biology, chemistry, physics, or computer science. It has been recommended but not imperative that the course be in the same subject area as the team project.

Students then select one team project from the discrete sciences, interdisciplinary sciences, mathematics, or computer science (these may change from year to year). The project is a collaborative research experience that culminated in a formal scientific report, which gets published in the annual PGSS journal as well as presented to the entire program community and guests.


PGSS typically offers from five to seven elective courses each year in addition to the required core courses, laboratory research and team project. Each student can take up to four elective courses, although they are encouraged to strike a balance between academic and social activities. Elective offerings vary from year to year, often including topics such as:

  • Art and Science
  • Astrophysics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Discrete Mathematics Mini-lab
  • Machine Learning
  • Mathematics Problem Seminar
  • Medicine and Its Moral Consequences
  • Nuclear Chemistry
  • Origin of Mathematical Ideas
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Information
  • Topics in Material Science

Guest Lectures

PGSS and also individual course faculty often draw speakers from the field or from academia to class or special lecture meetings. These lectures typically last roughly one hour, focus on scientific issues, and allow for questions and individual contact between the students and the presenter. Lectures in past years have included a discussion on the methods of natural gas extraction and the environmental impact of such methods.

Student Expectations

PGSS is a very special opportunity, and we expect that students will take their commitment to it very seriously. Students who accept the offer of admission are should follow all PGSS rules, which cover both academic and residential portions of the program. They should be fully engaged in all program activities, including each of the five categories above in addition to the social program organized by the residence life staff. Finally, students must stay in residence at the program for the full 35 days. There are no exceptions.

Although the program is very strict about its rules and their enforcement, they serve many important purposes. These policies keep students safe and foster a sense of community. They ensure that each student is exposed to the full spectrum of scientific work that PGSS has to offer, and they help maintain the program’s stellar reputation throughout the country. Furthermore, students still have significant freedoms during the program. They are free to explore Pittsburgh in groups or with teaching assistants, to use many of CMU’s excellent facilities, and to choose classes, electives, and projects which best suit their interests.