ennifer Fong, Taylor Moniz and Luan Bach
COSMOS marine biology course participants, from left, Jennifer Fong, Taylor Moniz and Luan Bach react to seeing a small marine animal captured in a gathering net at the edge of Newport Beach's Back Bay. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

Taylor Moniz is spending her summer observing marine organisms and exploring Newport Beach tide pools. She has learned to identify phytoplankton and zooplankton under a microscope, and she’s searched for earthworms in the Back Bay mud.

The 17-year-old Xavier College Prepatory High School senior can’t believe she’s having so much fun.

“I’m out there doing what scientists and graduate students do every day,” she says. “I’m discovering a whole new world that exists in the ocean, one that most people never get to see.”

Moniz, of Palm Desert, is one of 165 high school students participating in UC Irvine’s California State Summer School for Mathematics & Science, or COSMOS. For four weeks, they study topics such as astronomy, neuroscience, marine biology and the mathematics of music. They attend lectures and lab sessions taught by UCI faculty and grad students, and they live in campus housing.

“Students consistently tell us that COSMOS is life-changing and that it opens up their eyes and minds,” says Marjorie DeMartino, founding director of the program. “The interaction with professors and scientists and access to research labs provide unparalleled hands-on experiences for motivated high school students.”

Luan Bach, a Westminster High School senior, says dissecting squid and mullet has taught him how marine animals adapt and thrive in Southern California waters. The 17-year-old likes the program’s focus on projects, rather than testing, saying it makes education fun and stress-free.

“The labs and lectures are really fascinating,” he says, “and it feels as if I’m learning all of this because I want to, not because I have to.”

Trevor Roberts, 16, who sings and plays the piano and trombone, is taking “Mathematics of Music: Rhythm, Tones and Self-Expression.” A senior at South High School in Bakersfield, he’s learning to convert musical notes to sound measurements, which allows him to compose and produce music on a laptop computer.

The COSMOS experience has made Roberts think about college: “I’ll probably major in music and minor in math. I didn’t realize music was this complicated, but math really helps you understand it better.”

Celebrating its 10th year at UCI, COSMOS concludes July 24, when students will present final research projects and accept awards. To date, 1,475 California high school students have completed the program.