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Students showcase Summers of Discovery

By Melissa Kerr
September 2010

Photo of Durham Academy student Kristin Sundy
The poster session is an opportunity for young scientists to get a taste of what they're sure to spend much of their careers doing - explaining and defending their science before other scientists. Durham Academy student Kristin Sundy, right, talks with NIEHS Biologist Mercedes Arana, Ph.D., of the DNA Replication Fidelity Group. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

left to right, Catherine Hollister, her mother Beth Hollister, and Julius Thigpen, Ph.D.
Catherine Hollister, left, a student at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, posed with her proud mother, Piedmont Research Center Vice President Beth Hollister, center, and Comparative Medicine Branch Microbiologist Julius Thigpen, Ph.D. Thigpen was one of Hollister's mentors and second author on her study. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Sawyer Bowman, left, explaining his work to Mike Resnick, Ph.D.
High school division poster winner Sawyer Bowman, left, explained his research to NIEHS DNA repair expert Mike Resnick, Ph.D., principal investigator in the Chromosome Stability Group. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Vivian Chen, Ph.D.
North Carolina State University (NCSU) veterinary student Vivian Chen, Ph.D., described her work on an atlas of brain histology to fellow SOD interns. She worked this summer with her NTP mentors, Pathology Group Staff Scientist Susan Elmore, D.V.M., and Biologist Julie Foley, and Charles River Laboratories representative James Morrison. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Brian Rogers, left, and Adrian Russell
Brian Rogers, left, talks with fellow intern Adrian Russell. Rogers' poster won first place in the graduate division. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

right, Jackie Stillwell, and Julie Wofford
Non-scientists, such as Ethics Coordinator Jackie Stillwell, right, also enjoyed learning about the students' summer research. NCSU student Julie Wofford explained her analysis of mite allergen in the NIEHS Nuclear Resonance Imaging facility. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Participants in the NIEHS Summers of Discovery (SOD) program brought to fruition several weeks of working with mentors to develop the necessary data for a successful presentation at the program's annual poster competition. Held in the Institute's Rodbell Auditorium July 29, the event showcased the work of the 41 students who displayed the results of their summer work in Institute labs. For the Institute's scientific community, the annual SOD poster session is a time to reach out to the next generation of biomedical researchers and be reminded of the youthful curiosity that inspired their own careers in the field.

At the poster session, fellow students, postdoctoral fellows, and NIEHS scientists negotiated the labyrinth of presentation boards, each with an abstract and a proud first author eager to explain the results. It was the interns' time to show off what they had learned during the summer and share their enthusiasm about the science involved.

With the help of the SOD program, each summer NIEHS continues to mentor and excite future scientists. Interns are paired with mentors based on their individual interest and spend the summer working on a research project. It's not unusual for interns' summer projects to eventually become peer-reviewed publications or presentations at scientific meetings.

For some of the participants, the program offers a chance to experience the inner workings of a laboratory for the first time. As SOD coordinator Debbie Wilson noted, this summer there were twice as many high school students as last year.

For others, the internship can be potentially career changing. Melissa Ricker, an undergraduate student at North Carolina State University, said of the experience, "This has opened a new door for me." She expressed gratitude toward her mentor, Robert London, Ph.D., calling the experience "the best summer of my life." She said London's instruction and knowledge, as well as his humor, guided her as the summer progressed.

During the poster session, each young scientist must articulate the contents of his or her poster and the research involved, as well as field questions and observations from senior scientists. For Eason Lee, winner of the undergraduate division of the poster session, the process of determining a question and then finding an answer through the scientific method was a great reward. "The constant repeating of experiments, the discussions and pointed questions of the poster session, and the excitement of seeing a new or successful result - that's the essence of the research I'm glad I got to experience this summer."

Later in the day, NIEHS Deputy Director Bill Schrader, Ph.D., presented awards for the best posters (see text box). Schrader opened the ceremony by saying, "Science is fun." He said he hoped that the students were able to foster and expand an interest in science, as he prepared to name the winners in the high school, undergraduate, and graduate categories.

The posters were judged by postdoctoral fellows on the quality of the science, the poster presentation, and the oral presentation. Diane Klotz, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development, spoke to the students about the success of the poster presentations and said, "The postdocs were overwhelmingly impressed with the level of science." Klotz closed the ceremony by inviting the students to keep in touch with her and let her know how they progress as they pursue the exciting discoveries that science has to offer.

(Melissa Kerr studies chemistry at North Carolina Central University. She is currently an intern in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

Eason Lee, with his first place award, posing with Bill Schrader, Ph.D.
Holding his first place award in the undergraduate division, Duke University student Eason Lee posed with NIEHS Deputy Scientific Director Bill Schrader, Ph.D. Lee said of his summer at NIEHS, "I was able to do a project that combined engineering design while also probing a biological question." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

interns enjoying the traditional end of summer ice cream social
After the awards were presented, interns had a chance to enjoy the traditional end of summer ice cream social in the NIEHS cafeteria. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

And the winners are...

High School - Sawyer Bowman, a student at the Woodlawn School in Davidson, N.C., studied correlation in Quantitative High Throughput Screening (qHTS) data. The challenge he faced was finding ways to identify patterns and interpret the large amounts of data that the qHTS approach produces, as well as how to represent the data. Bowman was mentored by NTP Biomolecular Screening Branch Chief Raymond Tice, Ph.D. (, and Staff Scientist Keith Shockley, Ph.D.

Undergraduate - Eason Lee, a student at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, studied ways to extend the viability of the brain capillaries in order to manipulate blood-brain barrier function. On his project, "A superfusion system extended the viability three-fold and has the potential to further extend the viability with slight alterations to the procedure," Lee worked with mentors David Miller, Ph.D., NIEHS principal investigator and chief of the Laboratory of Toxicology and Pharmacology, and Intracellular Regulation Group Staff Scientist Ronald Cannon, Ph.D.

Graduate - Brian Rogers, a student at the Howard University School of Medicine, studied the use of global gene expression profiling in relation to development and progression of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). He found that dysregulation of several genes within mice paralleled HCC in humans, therefore providing a more effective model to study the human disease. NIEHS Investigative Pathology Group Leader Mark Hoenerhoff, Ph.D., was the principal investigator on Rogers's study, which included eight coauthors from the NTP Cellular and Molecular Pathology Branch, NIEHS Biostatistics Branch, and NIEHS Laboratory of Toxicology and Pharmacology.

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