Scientific research is constantly developing new frontiers
and the technology with which to conquer them.
Due to budget and scheduling constraints, heterogeneous talent among student bodies, and limited local resources, it is understandably difficult for most schools to deliver advanced research opportunities in STEM to students with special abilities and talents in these fields.
The Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences meets this need by providing advanced study in mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry, and biology, along with hands-on laboratory research in the cutting-edge facilities at Carnegie Mellon University.
The Selection Process
The PGSS Student Application Form will be available in mid-October, with an application deadline of January 31.
The application primarily consists of the following parts:
- a personal data form
- two essays
- a science-related activity list and general activity list
- a recommendation from a science teacher
- a recommendation from a math teacher
- a recommendation from a school counselor, along with the student’s transcript, attendance record, and class standing (if available)
PGSS typically receives over 500 applications each year from excellent students, so the competition is very intense. All parts of the application are taken into account by the selection committee, with emphasis on the student’s written expression and ideas conveyed through the essays, the transcript, and attendance record. 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 qualified student is selected from each Intermediate Unit. The committee also strives to maintain a mix of students from urban and rural areas, a balance of male and female students, and as many qualified under-represented minority students as possible.
All selected students automatically receive a full scholarship to attend. Historically, nearly all selected students accept this honor.
Curriculum, Faculty, & Facilities
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 guest lectures by prominent scientists for the duration of the program. Tours of local facilities engaged in modern scientific technology are usually optional.
Laboratory Research and Team Projects
Students select one laboratory course from biology, chemistry, physics, or computer science.
Students then select one team project from the discrete sciences, interdisciplinary sciences, mathematics, or computer science (these may change from year to year). This is a collaborative research experience that culminates in a formal scientific report, which gets published in the annual PGSS journal and 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:
- AI and Machine Learning
- Axioms and Constructions, Ancient and Modern
- Brain on the Fritz
- COVID-19: The Biology of a Pandemic
- Foundations of Music: Science and Mathematics
- How and Why to Go Beyond the Discovery of the Higgs Boson
- Laser Technology
PGSS often invites speakers from industry or academia to present during class or at special lecture events. These lectures typically focus on current scientific issues, and allow for questions and individual contact between the students and the presenter.
Lectures in past years have ranged from the engineering of JPL’s Europa mission to a discussion on the methods of natural gas extraction and the environmental impact of such methods.
PGSS is a very special opportunity, and we expect that students will take their commitment to it seriously. Students who accept the offer of admission must follow all PGSS rules, which cover both the academic and residential portions of the program. They should be fully engaged in all program activities, including the social program organized by the residence life staff.
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 experience 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.