Students Experience Real-World Science
Brianna Harnack, 17, a student at Pacifica Christian High School in Santa Monica, watched intently as Research Associate Amanda Woodbury demonstrated the tricky technique of pipetting liquid into small chips lined with human cells.
Then came Harnack's turn.
"You did an awesome job! That was so smooth," said Woodbury, raising a gloved hand and exchanging high-fives with Harnack.
Day One of Research Week was off to a stellar start.
Launched in 2011 as part of the High School Outreach Program of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, the annual session gives area high school students a hands-on introduction to stem cell research. This year, a record 50 students applied for the coveted spots.
"We had so many great applicants that we had to turn down many accomplished students," said Virginia Mattis, PhD, assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences and coordinator of Research Week.
Twenty teens—13 girls and seven boys from public and private schools throughout the Los Angeles area—were selected for the July 23–27 session. They were drawn from the Youth Employment and Development, and Teen Volunteer programs at Cedars-Sinai. Admission was based on various criteria, including grade-point average and the quality of the applicant's essay.
"Our goal is to give students a real-world immersive experience in a professional lab setting. We want them to walk away with a good sense of what it's really like to be a scientist," Mattis explained.
Research Week's agenda was jam-packed. Students learned about lab safety and sterile techniques, toured research facilities and attended lectures by several Cedars-Sinai investigators. Student teams conducted experiments under supervision of their mentors, with an aim of testing hypotheses involving breast cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), brain tumors and other disorders. On the last day, they presented their findings to a group of Cedars-Sinai scientists.
Lorena Alvarado, 17, from Venice High School, was among the enthusiastic participants. The daughter of immigrants from Mexico who had received little formal education, Alvarado said, "My mother taught me that education is the foundation on which to build your future, and what I'm learning here is fascinating."
Urmi Queen, who spent the first nine years of her life in Dhaka, Bangladesh, also pointed to her mother's impact.