High School Scientists Come to Georgetown

Posted in GUMC Stories

On Thursday and Friday of the first week of 2013, the halls of Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) were filled with area high school students attending the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), sponsored by the Academy of Applied Sciences and the U.S. Department of Defense. This is the 51st year that Georgetown University has sponsored this lively celebration of science, which is part of a broader program administered by colleges and universities nationwide.

JSHS seeks to promote research and experimentation at the high school level with the goal of enlarging the pool of talented future scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. This year, more than 200 students from 30 public, private, and parochial schools participated. “When I was young, these are the kind of smart students I used to try and sit close to, hoping some of it would rub off on me,” said Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD, dean for medical education at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

Lots of Interactivity and Inspiration

Joy Williams, senior associate dean for students, and director of the office of minority student development, also serves as director of the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area JSHS. She explains, “These students have been nominated by their schools because they have a passion for science and have showed interest in the possibility of a future career in science. Thanks to the generous donation of time and effort by a large number of our faculty members, we have been able to provide them with a highly motivational and interactive two-day experience.”

The program featured noted speakers from different fields of science, laboratory tours, seminars, presentations of student research papers, and the awarding of scholarships at the recognition ceremony on the final day.

Maria J. Donoghue, PhD, associate professor in Georgetown University’s department of biology, gave the keynote address titled “Reflections of a Neuroscientist: the Critical Role of Uncertainty in Science (and Life),” in which she shared her love of science along with some valuable, hard-won advice for future investigators. Making mistakes is a great way to learn, she said, and then confessed that she had carefully watered a gift orchid for a year before discovering it was made of silk.

Other honored speakers included astrophysicist Jane Rigby, PhD, from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, who explained “How to Build a Time Machine,” and Richard Schlegel, MD, chair of the department of pathology at Georgetown University, best known as co-inventor of the HPV vaccine technology, who gave an update on developments in his lab involving a new cell culture technology.

A dozen seminars were offered, covering such topics as “What Brain Imaging Tells Us about the Reading Brain,” “How Should Genomic Scientists Work with Indigenous People in Genomic Research?” and “Fear Factor: Frontal Lobe.”

Student Opportunity and Achievement

Angelique Bosse, who teaches biochemistry, genetics, and cell physiology, and who serves as senior coordinator for the Magnate Research Program at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., said, “We live in an area with lots of opportunities. We have students who intern at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Institutes of Health, the Army Research Lab, NASA, the Food and Drug Administration and universities in the area.”

One of Bosse’s students, Neil Davey, exhibited remarkable poise and erudition as he presented a research paper titled “Deletion of Endonuclease G Disrupts Mitochondrial Homeostasis and Leads to Reduced Virulence in the Human Protozoan Parasite Leishmania Mexicana.”

Davey’s research is aimed at preventing leishmaniasis, a disease transmitted by sandflies that affects as many as 12 million people worldwide. GUMC professor Elliott Crooke, PhD, chair of the department of biochemistry and molecular & cellular biology, commented, “From what I could gather from his talk, I would say he has encouraging evidence that a vaccine based on the strategy he presented may be possible and effective.”

On the final day of the Symposium at Georgetown, Davey was awarded the top JSHS regional scholarship award of $2,000.

Daniel Liu, a student at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Md., won the $1,500 scholarship award for his paper, “PGC-la Protects Cardiomyocytes from Antiretroviral Drug-induced Mitochondrial Toxicity.”

Natalie Slater, a student at H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program in Arlington, Va., won the $1,000 scholarship award for her paper, “Say it to My Face – The Effect of Visual Contact on Decision Making.”

This May, Davey and Liu will have the opportunity to present their work at the National JSHS in Dayton, Ohio, where they can compete to win additional scholarships.

A drawing was held for two scholarships to Georgetown’s Mini Med School. The student winner was Shaam Sium from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., and the winning teacher was Ursala Kirchner from South Lakes High School in Reston, Va.

Participants gave the Symposium high marks, reporting that they were both challenged and engaged. Christian Hill, a sophomore from Landon School in Bethesda, Md., who wants to go into chemical or nuclear engineering, said, “This experience has been very interesting because at Georgetown I can see how all the scientific fields are interrelated. That is something I normally wouldn’t see because at our school—or any other high school—you just have chemistry or biology, not both. But here, when we’re talking about, for instance, the treatment of AIDS, it opens up a completely different perspective, because you have the chance to integrate everything you know.”

By Frank Reider, GU School of Medicine

(Published January 16, 2013)