They spend a good deal of their summer vacation delving into some pretty heady stuff, from designing efficient and aesthetically pleasing bridges to studying the formation of supermassive black holes from pre-galactic fragments.

And mind you, these are high-school juniors — bright as an evening star but still in their mid-teens.

“I like a challenge,” said Christine Ashton, a 16-year-old junior at Wiesbaden High School.

Christine is one of three Department of Defense Dependents Schools students who have been chosen to participate in a six-week research program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Also selected were Christopher Blake Wilson of Ankara, Turkey, and Michael Newman of Osan, South Korea, the son of an Air Force colonel.

“It’s a great program,” said Christopher, 17. “I wasn’t sure about my chances of getting in, but I’m really happy I did.”

Each year upward of 80 students are invited by the Research Science Institute to take part in the program. Sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Education in McLean, Va., the series annually draws about a thousand applicants. Applicants must have completed three years of high school, or the equivalent, to be eligible.

About 50 of the students are from the United States, which includes DODDS. The rest are from other nations.

DODDS has been directly involved in the program since 2002, regularly sending two or three students to Cambridge, England, every summer.

American children living overseas “bring a different perspective” to the program, said Cliff Bowman, director of the RSI program. “They can be a bridge.”

Participating students attend college-level classes led by professors and graduate students. The focus is on science, math and engineering, and each student works with a mentor on a research project.

The DODDS’ slots usually go to the children of servicemembers, said Joann P. DiGennaro, co-founder and president of the Center for Excellence in Education. This year is a bit of an anomaly because Christine is the daughter of a DODDS teacher and Christopher is the son of the U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Bowman and DiGennaro emphasized that students are selected on the basis of what they know, not whom they know. Even the children of powerful politicians have been turned away.

In the case of Christopher, DiGennaro said, “he gets no extra points for being the son of an ambassador.”

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