Lecture, assignment, test. Most Palo Alto High School courses follow this structure, giving students the traditional education experience. 

Advanced Placement Research, however, is as choose-your-own-adventure as a course can get. AP Researchers, fresh out of AP Seminar (a communications and leadership class) begin preparing for their central project the summer before the class starts. Students choose a topic they are passionate about pursuing and dive into a research project on the topic over the course of the academic year. 

With AP exam season coming up, most AP Researchers at Paly are concluding their projects and tying up the loose ends. We talked with three students to find out more about their research explorations.

Vienna Liu

When senior Vienna Liu went through a nine-month injury recovery process two years ago, it sparked an interest in injury prevention, leading her to her AP Research project topic.

Liu’s research focuses on sports injuries in female athletes at Paly — specifically, the role of integrating strength training into practices as a preventative measure against them. 

“It [strength training] is mainly a mode of using your body in a different way than your sport usually does,” Liu said. “Just moving your body in a different way, that prevents the repetitive motions of things so you don’t have the continuous motion over and over that would cause different microtraumas on your body.”

Her mixed methodology — using both qualitative and quantitative data — included interviewing coaches of female sports at Paly about notable injury trends and surveying 68 of the school’s female athletes. 

Liu found that some sports, such as soccer, did not implement strength training while basketball did.

Liu also analyzed how teams focused specifically on preventing certain injuries with their training, such as ACL injury prevention. 

“I asked them [the coaches] what kind of injuries that they noticed and when,” Liu said. “I thought that it was very important that a lot of the injuries occur in the beginning [of the season], which means coming back … the rapid acceleration in training definitely had a factor in how an individual got injured.”

After analyzing her data, Liu described results as “expected” for her hypothesis that strength training serves as a preventative measure for injuries. 

“Toward the end of my paper, I discussed the necessity for a program that would educate female athletes on intervention, specifically, just because I think that because there are many … facets that make females a lot more susceptible to specifically overuse injuries to the body over time,” Liu said.

Going into the final few months of AP Research, Liu reflected on her enjoyment of the class.

“I’ve really liked this project because … you really have to manage your own time and manage the course of what you’re doing really well,” Liu said. “It [AP Research] allows you to explore what you’re interested specifically in and I’ve learned a lot about research. It’s also opened my eyes to the idea of doing some research in college.”

Jeremy Yun

Senior Jeremy Yun’s project is focused on all things audio.

“I’m looking at something called binaural beats,” Yun said. “You play a frequency in one ear, and you play a frequency that’s really close — but not quite — in the other ear. … What binaural beats are supposed to do is by stimulating your auditory brain signals, that can entrain or have it synchronize with your audio, and that is supposed to force your brain into a different state to help you focus better.”

Inspiration for the topic struck around two years ago, when Yun stumbled across existing research about binaural beats and found the subject intriguing. 

“I read something about how people with ADHD use … binaural beats to help them focus,” Yun said. “I thought it was a bit hocus-pocus, but there was actually a lot of research. I want to quantify what specifically it [binaural beats] does affect, and how much.”

Besides cutting his sample size in half due to unforeseen time concerns, the process went smoothly. Yun’s testing setup involved an experiment in which Paly participants took a game-like test six times. Through a pair of headsets, participants listened to multiple different audios in the background while taking the simulated test. Yun then compared the performance between which audio was playing.

“The thing I’m measuring is something called response inhibition, which is when you see a stimulus and you force yourself not to react to it,” Yun said. “I’ve seen some pretty promising results, where certain frequencies tend to have a lot better performance, especially with the control [experiment] where they don’t hear anything.”

Eva Salvatierra

Senior Eva Salvatierra entered AP Research curious to research the extent of sexual messages portrayed to young people in media.

“I realized that the way that [media companies] were using sexual activity and characters were, more to establish tropes and to establish stereotypes, rather than try to kind of debunk them … especially within Latin American communities,” Salvatierra said. 

Her research included watching TV shows from the 2000s and measuring the frequency of certain buzzwords using content analysis and sexual behavior variables.

“I hypothesized that TV shows would use sex as a way to kind of create tension and conflict,” Salvatierra said. “I thought that there may be some positive messages in a couple of the shows, more of an educational view, but I also felt there would be kind of a strong use of sticking to tropes and stereotypes.”

A common theme in television, Salvatierra said, is the trope of virginity.

“There are three main virginity myths,” Salvatierra said. “There’s the maintenance script, where it’s like, try to maintain your virginity, keep it as long as possible; the management script, where it’s like managing, losing your virginity … carefully and safely; and then there’s an urgency script, which is like trying to get your child to have sex as fast as possible to [achieve] higher social status.”

Salvatierra noted AP Research’s excellence for gearing up for college courses.

“It’s a class where you really have to be passionate about what you’re looking into … and to really challenge yourself,” Salvatierra said.


Try Jeremy Yun’s binaural beats to focus: