By Karen Billing
As Alice Fang, the president and founder of Torrey Pines High School's Falconium science journal, puts it, there are three groups of people when it comes to science: Those who find it torture, those who passively participate and those who "like it unreservedly as if with salivating neurons."
Alice's Falconium journal is ready to launch into a new year of giving science a cooler reputation on campus, getting the passive to be interested, and giving the passionate an outlet to experiment and expound.
"Falconium aims to bridge the gap between high-end journals aimed solely at professionals and magazines intended for younger children," Alice said. "In Falconium, students with a passion for science write articles about scientific phenomena and other topics in a way that is engaging to their peers. Falconium is also a niche for student-done research to be published. Meanwhile, readers who may not be as interested in science can read the journal and gain valuable insights from their peers.
"Falconium also directly deals with stereotypes and definitions of science," she added. "A recent issue we published focuses specifically on student perspectives of science."
For the quarterly journal, students do all the research, writing, art, editing and layout on their own time—they do not get school credit.
"That's really remarkable," said Alice of the students' willingness to contribute. "Everyone is really enthusiastic about what we do. The goal is to share our love of science with other students."
Alice, now a senior, founded the journal her sophomore year at Torrey Pines, putting science teacher Brinn Belyea's idea in motion.
"She's one of our top students," said Belyea of Alice. "It's because of her energy and leadership that this club has been so successful."
It was challenging at first, trying to find a print shop who would work with them. Alice said many would not. Fortunately, The UPS Store in Del Mar Highlands agreed to give them a large discount on printing and they received grants from companies such as Life Technologies and Gen-Probe.
There are currently more than 50 students involved in the journal and, in one-and-a-half years, more than 250 articles, graphics, and blogs have been published, Alice said.
Recently, Falconium staff members participated in the San Diego Science Festival and the "A World We Can Change" conference/ expo, according to Alice.
"Falconium staff members manned the booth and shared their love for science with children, teenagers, and adults of all ages," she said.
Falconium is also the grand prize winner of the 2010 national Young Professionals in Publishing competition.
"We've gotten extremely far in these last two years," said senior contributor Siddhartho Bhattacharya.
Past issues have covered genetically modified organisms, MSG, violin sound analysis, the physics of break dancing and parasitic worms. The articles are accompanied by student graphics and illustrations, and every issue is published with a supplementary teacher's guide to prompt classroom discussions of their work.
For his articles, Siddhartho has written about astrophysics, fractals and 4-D microscopy and is planning to write this year about his internship at UC San Diego's biomedical science lab.
"Most of [the magazine's articles] are on things we hear about, that we never knew, that we want to learn more about," Siddhartho said.
The students run with an idea, completing research and talking to local scientific professionals. In their articles, the science is made relatable, but is not "dumbed down" for its teenage readers.
"You do want to make sure your peers understand, but we make sure it's high quality enough that it's intelligent," said senior Michelle Kao.
Senior Noor Al-Alusi has worked with the magazine since her sophomore year as an administrative editor-in-chief, trying to get other schools involved. She is working on connecting with students in Mexico who have become active on the Falconium website.
Noor hopes to have a Falconium branch established in Mexico; last year they got a branch up and running at Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad.
"The teachers and students [at Pacific Ridge] have been very enthusiastic, and within a week from the time we met, they too have begun to hold Friday lunch meetings and recruit members so that they can contribute to the next issue of Falconium," Alice said. "The Falconium journal and accompanying teacher's guide have also been used by students at Carmel Valley Middle School. Our issues have also been distributed at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair and the USCD COSMOS program."
As a contributor, Noor has written about global warming, ADHD medications and an article on her experience at the Scripps Research Institute with protein crystallization.
"Falconium gives students a way to see how what they're learning in the classroom relates to real life," Noor said. "It makes what you're learning more tangible."
Alice, who is just starting the process of college applications, believes that there is a good core group of underclassmen that will continue the publication after she graduates.
"I am really confident they will lead it with the same amount of enthusiasm as we have the past few years," Alice said.
Fang said they are still looking for sponsorships, submittals from any high school student and for scientists willing to review their articles and give them helpful feedback.
For more information on how to get involved, e-mail