Summer assignment: metro Phoenix H.S. interns explore new science at ASU

July 1, 2010

By hammersmith

Ten outstanding high school students from across metro Phoenix are currently participating in Biodesign’s science internship program, now in its fifth season.

Over the course of an intensive 6-week session that began June 7, students will focus on pioneering research aimed at addressing global challenges in human and environmental health. The projects, carried out under the direction of scientific mentors from the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, range from the use of biological systems for decontamination of groundwater to designing new vaccines to prevent infectious diseases to refining new techniques for disease diagnosis.

Selections for the highly competitive program were based on superior scholastic performance, descriptive student essays and the recommendations of high school teachers. The internships provide students with a rare opportunity to actively engage in state-of-the-art research, in a modern laboratory setting.

The Biodesign Institute is devoted to tackling grand challenges related to human health, planetary sustainability and national security. To do this, research experts in biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science and other fields come together to form multidisciplinary teams.

Each student, under the guidance of an assigned mentor, spends a minimum of 15-20 hours a week in one of Biodesign’s laboratories. Having devoted the initial two weeks of the program to learning the fine points of laboratory technique and safety protocols, the students are now immersed in their specialized research.

Currently, researchers are only able to cultivate about 1 percent of the enormous microbial diversity in nature. The new research permits the rapid single-cell isolation and cultivation of microbes, which will further an understanding of cell mechanisms involved in human disease, as well as providing insights into cellular interactions affecting the health of the planet.

“I’ve always had an interest in science, and a natural thirst for knowledge,” Dena says, adding  “I’ve been fascinated with mathematics since I was very young.” The study she is involved with exemplifies the kind of scientific study carried out at Biodesign, where scientists drawn from diverse disciplines work in close collaboration.  As Dena notes, “In a classroom, you would never get this kind of experience. It’s really a crash course in how detailed biology can get.”

Intern Gaurav Albal, alongside his mentors Seongjun Park and Brad Lusk, takes a closer look at a part of his project.
Meanwhile, Gaurav Albal from BASIS High School in Scottsdale is busy in the Center for Environmental Biotechnology. He works with professor Seongjun Park and PhD student Brad Lusk, on a device used to clean up pollutants in water. Their project involves breaking down these environmental toxins, through the combined use of two techniques, photocatalysis using UV light and biodegradation, which involves digestion by bacteria.

“I have always been enthralled with science,” Albal says, adding that his interest in the life sciences in particular will most likely lead to a career in medicine. “I’m learning how to work in an actual, professional lab—preparing solutions and running the batch reactors in the basement, to see if our processes are actually breaking the chemicals down.”

Carole Flores, a coordinator within the Institute’s Center for Single-Molecule Biophysics is managing the internship program. “We are so grateful to the researchers who have volunteered to take on interns for they clearly love what they’re doing so much that it drives them to share it and inspire others through mentoring.  They are the perfect guides for our young visiting scientists and are providing such a valuable gift by giving them a taste of what the research life is really like and by sharing their time, knowledge and their own love of science.“

Faculty, staff and student researchers serve as mentors as well as guest speakers in the lunchtime seminar series that has been created for the interns.  “This experience will hopefully help them to decide if this is the proper career track for them and to make important college and career decisions during their upcoming senior year of high school year.”

The program concludes with a public presentation by each intern of his or her research results. It will take place on Monday, July 19, from 1-4pm in the Biodesign auditorium.  In addition to preparing talented students for possible careers in science, the program is a vital contributor to Arizona’s growing biosciences and biotechnology economic sector.

Jenna Makis: Pinnacle High School  Phoenix, AZ
Center for Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics (EMI), under Dr. Alan Filipski. Project: Evolutionary properties of human disease mutations as revealed through bioinformatics.

Dena Navarroli: Mesquite High School  Gilbert, AZ
Center for Ecogenomics (EG), under Dr. Joseph Chao and Dr. Weimin Gao.
Project: Highly parallel microchamber arrays for microbe cultivation and species identification.

Carrie Lin: Desert Vista High School  Phoenix, AZ
Center for Innovations in Medicine (IM), under Dr. Patricia Carrigan.
Project: Microarray detection and diagnosis of disease based on the antibody reactivity profile contained in a single drop of blood.

George Chen: Corona del Sol High School Tempe, AZ
Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics (PD), under Dr. Mitch Magee and Graduate Research Assistant Brianne Petritis.
Project: Nucleic Acid Programmable Protein Arrays and their use in identifying autoantibodies in models of lymphoma.

Alexander Roesler: Mountain View High School   Mesa, AZ
Center for Innovations in Medicine (IM), under Dr. Bart Legutki.
Project: Microarray detection and diagnosis of disease based on the antibody reactivity profile contained in a single drop of blood.
Ryan Muller: North High School  Phoenix, AZ
Center for Single Molecule Biophysics (SMB), under Dr. Stuart Lindsay, director of the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics and
Qiang Fu, Graduate Research Associate.
Project: Chromatin condensation in artificial chromatin.

Daniel Ferolino: Gilbert High School, Gilbert, AZ
Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, (IDV), under Dr. Timothy Karr, Associate Professor of Research and Sheri Skerget, Graduate Research Associate
Project: Screening Drosophila stocks for Wolbachia infection which leads to sperm modification and infertility.

Linh Tran: Washington High School Phoenix, AZ
Center for Ecogenomics (EG), under Dr. Roger Johnson, Graduate Research Associate Vivek Nandakumar, and Undergraduate Kathryn Hernandez.
Project: 3D single-cell microimaging to quantify nuclear morphometric transformation in cancer.

David Belohlavek: Desert Mountain High School  Scottsdale, AZ
Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors (BB), under Dr. Erica Forzani.
Project: Developing sensors for environmental and health biomarkers.

Gaurav Albal: BASIS Scottsdale, AZ
Center for Environmental Biotechnology (EB), under Dr. Seongjun Park.
Project: Photocatalysis and biodegradation of environmental toxins using circulating-bed biofilm reactors.