Love of chemistry propels student to Cornell

Graduating senior Cam Muniz says a Gloucester High teacher fostered his love of chemistry which he'll study this fall at Cornell University in New York.

He always liked science, the way you can propose a hypothesis and then test it out in the lab. The provability and certainty of it all. How the abstract becomes real life.

But it wasn’t until a Gloucester High School science project ignited his interest that Cam Muniz realized what he wanted to do: help people by researching cures for awful diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Now Muniz, 18, is heading in the fall to his dream school — Cornell University — to study chemistry and take the first step.

The highly selective Ivy League school was Muniz’s first choice. Though he’s ranked third in his class and president of the National Honor Society, Muniz said he was shocked when he checked his Cornell application and saw that one word: “Congratulations!”

“I couldn’t believe my eyes, I’m not even going to lie,” Muniz said. “You’ve been working 12 years for this and it pays off. I could barely sleep the whole week, I was so pumped.”

His acceptance to Cornell was one of several admissions to top colleges this year for Gloucester High seniors. Others were admitted to Harvard, Bates, Middlebury, Vassar, Fordham, Wesleyan, Trinity and Bard.

Muniz credited Gloucester High School teacher Carol Cafasso for helping him learn to love chemistry, after the two collaborated on a project in the school’s chemistry lab. Every day after school, Muniz would run experiments on agar, a gelatin obtained from red algae that students use in experiments. The agar changes when it’s used, so Muniz wanted to see if he could return it to its original form so it could be used again. After weeks of adding heat and different amounts of hydrochloric and acetic acids, the experiment was a success, allowing it to be reused in more experiments and saving the cost of buying new agar, which sells for $70 per pound.

Cafasso published the results of the experiment, crediting Muniz for his hard work, in Chemistry Solutions, an online journal for chemistry teachers.

Muniz, who learned from Cafasso for two years in Honors chemistry and Advanced Placement chemistry, said she would bring cinnamon Pop-Tarts every morning to help him and his classmates wake up and start learning.

“It speaks to how much she cares about her students,” he said. “She’s such a kind teacher, one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”

The best part about Gloucester High is the wide variety of classes and activities that allow a student to “dive deep” into their specific interest, Muniz said. For him, that meant science. In addition to the chemistry experiment with Cafasso, Muniz was a member of the Chemistry Club, tutored students in chemistry through the National Honor Society, and took advanced courses in biology and physics.

Now he’ll take that interest in science, cultivated in a laboratory at Gloucester High School, off to Cornell.

"I definitely want to get into medical research, trying to find cures for diseases and help people who are sick,” he said. “It’s fulfilling to give back in that way to people who need it.”

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