Costa Rica Trip

The Central Texas Science Team sponsors an annual summer field research science program for high school-aged teens (those homeschooled and those enrolled in school).

This is the only field research of its kind in the United States.

Summer Science Expedition is a 10-day field research program in Costa Rica for 14-18*-year-old students. It’s a joint program between Seeds of Change, the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Curry Lab, and the biochemistry department at the University of Costa Rica. Finca La Anita Rainforest Ranch hosts the researchers for eight days, and Horizontes Forest Station hosts the researchers during the two-day sea turtle portion.

Research Trip Overview

    • Limited to 16 students
    • Eight days studying the leaf-cutter ants and conducting field research at Finca La Anita, where three rainforests converge.
    • Two days with the Leatherback Trust studying sea turtle conservation and tagging sting rays
    • Experimental Design workshop intensives
    • Lab research
    • Field research in tropical rainforest
    • Pre-experiment presentation presenting their proposed experiment (similar format as defending a thesis)
    • Final presentation of their experiments (which they also have to do upon their return to the U.S.).
    • Contribution to important research on the use of leaf-cutter ants in the creation of new antibiotics
    • Service project for the nearby village.
    • Adventuring (zip lining, trail riding, naturalist-guided hikes in national parks, local cooking class)
    • Six pre-trip educational sessions developed by UCR and UW scientists and facilitated by CTST trip leaders

This is not a tropical vacation. It is serious science. The scientists who designed this have planned every facet of the trip with deliberation. Because the science instruction is intense, it is conducted for specific durations and then students go on excursions to refresh their focus and energy before the next science intensive. Careful attention is given to their housing, food and daily rhythm so as to best empower their science training. We are served healthy food, mostly organic and mostly grown on the farm. The program is set in one of the most nature-dense and beautiful locations in the world because science shows that exposure to nature is vital for good health.

Participants will be work as real scientists do, with the amazing benefit of being in Costa Rica with a team of scientists from the University of Costa Rica.

2021 Dates 

June 20-30 (allowing a shift of a couple of days in either direction as final flight reservations are made).

Program Cost is $3,750

This includes pre-trip educational lessons, intensive science lab and field work and instruction led by world-renowned scientists, field work with stingrays and sea turtles, airfare, room, board, daily excursions (ziplining, trail riding, naturalist-guided half-day hike at a volcanic national park, an evening of local cooking classes), and ground transportation in Costa Rica.

Covid Safety Plan

  • There have been no Covid cases in the village where our lodging is located and we fly into Liberia, not San Jose where there are more cases.
  • Our lodging hosts at Finca la Anita have maintained rigorous health and cleaning protocols. As we will only be in contact with each other and our professors during the visit, it is extremely unlikely that anyone will be at risk.
  • Our group members who are not vaccinated will take Covid tests before departing to Costa Rica.  The entire group, per CDC requirements, will test before the return trip to the US.
  • If a student or an adult tests positive for Covid, the current plan is for Seeds of Change to arrange to have them quarantined probably at Finca la Anita, with one of the instructors remaining with the student.

Additional Information

Following are links to the blogs of past summer trips, written by the students each day of the expedition:

2019 First Year trip:

2018 First Year trip:

2017 First Year trip:

2016 First Year trip:

2019 Second Year Bioinformatics trip:

You can find additional detail, including trip blogs from other participating schools, at

  1. Contact us directly at with questions or to let us know you’re interested.
  2. To get on the Seeds of Change 1st year Tropical Research Page go to SOC Research Trips. Near the bottom of the page, click the Tropical Field Research Registration button. That will take you to a form asking for your details.

Student Qualifications

Participants need to be 14-18 during the dates of the trip and have real biology experience (through a course or equivalent real-world time) to ensure they are mature enough both socially and academically for the program. They need to be resilient enough to be away from family in a new and foreign environment for 10 days without daily calls home. They should be able to manage themselves, their work, and their belongings independently and be able to ask for help when needed.

Academically, students will be doing research that will require an understanding of basic biology vocabulary, a solid understanding of the scientific method, and a strong sense of biology basics like food webs, symbiotic relationships, and how living beings respond to and adapt to their environment. They’ll also need to be able to use lab equipment, conduct background research, and write up and present their scientific findings.

We offer two levels of this summer field research.  This is the first year program. The second-year program is based on bioinformatics and is designed for rising high-school-age juniors or seniors.


During the spring, we will facilitate six planning and prep lessons to prepare the students for Costa Rica. The lessons cover Costa Rica itself, the leaf-cutter ant and how they produce their fungus garden and their own antibiotic, and a little bit of bioinformatics. We will be able to connect to non-Texas participants via desktop video-conferencing for these lessons.


Dr. Adrian Pinto, the scientist leading the instruction, is world-renowned.  Dr. Pinto, Clinical Microbiologist, obtained a master’s degree in Microbiology with an emphasis in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and a Ph.D. in Environmental Microbiology at the University of Wisconsin Madison.  He is a professor at the UCR School of Medicine and heads a research group in symbiotic associations between microorganisms and different animal species, including insects and amphibians, seeking to apply the knowledge generated to solve Human Health problems. (Dr. Pinto is in this documentary with Stephen Fry)

Dr. Pinto brings some of his grad students to assist. Our students get two days of intense scientific method and experimental design instruction, lab research instruction and experience, and field research instruction and experience.

Trip Chaperones

  • Shannon Rizzo, head coach of Central Texas Science Team
  • Amanda Akers & Russell Baker, certified teachers and past coaches with Central Texas Science Team
  • Beth Hunt, Seeds of Change


These links show our lodging during the trip.

(first eight days, in the rainforest)

(last two days, at the coast)

Photos of Previous Years’ Programs

We have a photo album of past trips on Smugmug, here:

Still have questions? Don’t hesitate to email us at We look forward to hearing from you.