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High schoolers join in world-class research

August 24, 2007

A group of researchers at ASU’s Biodesign Institute recently presented findings from their work in areas including autism, cancer, renewable energy and diagnostic devices.

It might have been a typical symposium, except for one thing: the presenters were all high school students. The 26 Arizona students participated as paid interns for six weeks, contributing to an actual research project ongoing at the institute.

“We felt it was important for the students to work directly on a project as part of a research team in the same way they will if they pursue a career in research science,” says Rick Fisher, director of educational outreach at the Biodesign Institute.

The Biodesign internship included participants from 13 Valley schools and is the largest bioscience high school internship in Arizona. It supports a Valley initiative to strengthen the area’s bioscience and biotechnology industry.

Students applied for the program and were selected by a review team from the Biodesign Institute based on a variety of factors, including science courses taken, grades, a short essay explaining their interest, and teacher references.

“The level of accomplishment and intellect of these students is remarkable,” Fisher says. “We know that, overall, the United States has been losing ground in effectively preparing students for careers in math and science, but looking at these bright students, you realize that there are incredible pockets of excellence. The credit for their success must be shared by both the students and their teachers.”

This is the second year for the Biodesign Summer High School Internship, which is funded by a grant from the ASU Foundation’s Women & Philanthropy program and the state-funded Technology and Research Initiative Fund. The objective is to enable high school students to participate in a cutting-edge laboratory research environment to further their education and interest in science as a career.

Some examples of this summer’s interns and their projects include:

• Kathryn Scheckel, a 2006 Xavier College Preparatory graduate and a Flinn Foundation Scholar, who worked in the institute’s Center for Innovations in Medicine with researcher Kathryn Sykes. Sykes’ team is attempting to identify genetic fingerprints of deadly infectious agents to create vaccines against them. Scheckel worked on validating genetic material for use in vaccines.

• Veronica Shi, a 2006 graduate from Corona del Sol High School and a U.S. Presidential Scholar, worked in the institute’s Center for Evolutionary Functional Genomics with researcher Alan Fillipski. In a center devoid of the standard “wet lab” test tubes and chemicals, new types of scientists are emerging. These researchers use computers to identify genetic mutations that cause disease. By looking at DNA databanks – gold mines of genetic information – they compare the published genomes of species ranging from humans to mice and chickens to puffer fish to gain new insights into human disease. Shi developed a computer program to analyze the impact of mutations.


Julie Kurth, (480) 727-9386