by Justin Sapp
"Justin, come down for breakfast."
I hated my brother's impersonation of Mom's morning screech. He seemed to think he was the third parent. Moreover, I've never even liked breakfast and, no matter how fast I rushed downstairs, my baby sister would get the first plate.
Yet I loved my morning routine once I pushed my brother's voice out of my mind, and a series of questions easily awakened me to the excitement of the day: Why am I never hungry in the morning? Why doesn't my esophagus function early? Why could I barely pull myself out of bed with arms and legs that didn't listen to me? Why did my date of birth determine my familial role? What made my parents behave differently towards each one of us? What goes on in the human brain to trigger parental preferences?
I am a student with a passion for finding answers tied to mysteries of the brain and body. Raising questions is never enough and merely ignites my journey to explore the complexity of different organs and tasks they fulfill. I am consumed with studying the breakdown of cells and organelles performing different functions. A simple question asked about breakfast or birth order stirs my curiosity in the factory we all have inside. As I learn different reasons for my biological processes, the explanations draw me in like a yo-yo--always wanting to come back to learn more.
The search for answers is challenging. In AP Biology this semester, I was assigned to take on what seemed like an easy question in a lab: How do temperatures impact cellular respiration? I recorded a lot of data during my lab period, but none of it made sense and my lab partners gave up at the end of the period. However I spent that night combing over books tied to the question and the ways we recorded data from the experiments. I was the first person at school the next day to get into the labs, waiting for the security guard to open the doors. "A little too early today!" he said.
After several experiments before class, I discovered how cold temperatures hinder the rate of cell respiration. From labs to my life, so many other questions send me on the mission to discover. I had signed up for the chemistry and psychology clubs as a freshman. Why did I not go initially? This answer was simple: None of my friends would go and I didn't want to go alone. Again: Why? I would discover that the answer was entangled in a question that had been with me since elementary school and was becoming more pressing: How does the guy who was the short and scrawny kid prevent friends from manhandling him? I laughed off the friendly punches for years. By freshman year, I was tired of it. What could end it? I heard wrestling would make me "brawlic." I tried wrestling for a year and fell in love with a new set of questions it raised: What was wrestling's impact on my body? The soreness in my muscles was worse than breakfast calls. I raced to science journals online and books to learn how chemical irritants were interacting with my pain receptors.
I became more confident to stand up for myself and to join clubs without friends. During sophomore year, I gave up wrestling to devote more time for activities related to my interests in science, joining the psychology and chemistry clubs.
I now spring out of bed every morning ready for experiments in chemistry club meetings at 7:10. My mom has stopped making breakfast for me, yet there are still many questions stirring my mornings, making me feel like a yo-yo, always coming back for new discoveries. Except unlike a yo-yo, progress comes with entanglement, especially when I am wrapped up in a biological question.
Justin Sapp will be a freshman at Duke University in the Fall and is a member of the Class of 2014 at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois