About 70 high school students from Santa Barbara County — and far beyond — crowded into the Hatlen Theater at UC Santa Barbara this week, bright-eyed and waiting for a stimulating talk about the latest brain control research.

A quick check showed that it was in fact still summer, meaning they willingly gave up time outside of school to learn about some of the cool research coming from UCSB faculty.

Those 70-plus students are participating in UCSB’s Research Mentorship Program, and Monday evening they hunkered down for the first of eight free GRIT talks (Ground-breaking Research/Innovative Technology) hosted this summer.

The GRIT talks series was created just last year, but RMP has been around since 1995, according to program director Lina Kim.

RMP allows a select group of 10th- and 11th-graders to conduct collaborative, graduate-level research during a six-week program preparing them for post-high school.

Many participants are local, but some hail from as far as India.

Within RMP, which kicked off in late June, is a specialized subset snagged for grant-funded fellowships from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), created in 2012. 

Seven local students were tapped to conduct stem cell research through the CIRM program, including two from Dos Pueblos High School and one each from Dunn School, San Marcos High, Laguna Blanca School, Cate School and Ventura High.

Like RMP participants, CIRM students are surrounded by like-minded peers and learn how to develop resumes, network and prepare presentations.

Their work is more challenging, however, Kim said, and includes active research within the stem cell department at UCSB.

“Usually people talk about STEM cells in a controversial way,” she said, noting CIRM students must research an accompanying creative angle. “Whatever they learn here they can use somewhere else.”

Each CIRM student will give a research presentation at the end of six weeks, but one also will be chosen to present in front of experts at the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine in San Francisco.

Kim encouraged the public to attend the free hour-long GRIT talks offered weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5 p.m. Click here for a schedule of the summer series.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at gpotthoff@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.