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Science Lab On The Rocks

July 13, 1987

SENECA ROCKS, W.Va. (AP) _ The sheer granite columns at Seneca Rocks State Park serve as a classroom for scores of students at the National Youth Science Camp.

″I never expected to do that,″ Seong Bang said shortly after making her first rope climb up 60 feet of rock. ″Here, they want to develop scientists with a broader background.″

For three weeks in July, the two best pre-college science students from each state and the District of Columbia come to West Virginia to soak up the latest in robotics, genetic engineering, radio astronomy, fiber optics and a host of other advanced topics. But they also get to learn outdoor skills.

Bang, a delegate from Reno, Nev., who will enter Boston College this fall, was one of 72 students who climbed Seneca Rocks last week. Others paddled through white water on the New River, clambered through the national wilderness at Dolly Sods or explored underground caves.

The rope climb was somewhat scary, said Brent Beal of Toledo, Wash.

″It’s just not natural to lean out like that,″ Beal said. ″When you get to the top you have to swing your legs over the top. But I probably won’t have a chance to do it again. I’ll be locked up in a lab somewhere.″

″You have to rely on your own strengths, as well as the equipment and the others in your group,″ said group leader Jay Hutchinson.

Camp Pocahontas, a former Civilian Conservation Corps facility, is temporary home to the 102 science delegates and several dozen staff members. It serves as an arena for morning and evening lectures on science.

After dinner, Susan Gottesman, a researcher with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., stands under a huge shade tree and shows on an overhead projector how bits of DNA are inserted into bacteria to track cancer growth.

″I suspect they couldn’t go home and write a clear story about it, but next time they hear something about (gene splicing), it will mean a lot more to them,″ Gottesman said.

The delegates are picked for more than their grade averages, said camp director James Shuman, who was an Iowa delegate at the first science camp in 1963.

″These people are so capable of learning and retaining that I liken them to sponges,″ Shuman said. ″They soak up information.″

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