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Mesa high school junior spends summer in science labs at ASU's Polytechnic campus

June 15, 2002

Keith Scherb, a Skyline High School student, doesn't look or talk much like a typical high school junior this summer.

The 16-year old is donning lab coats, safety goggles and rubber gloves as he investigates Vitamin C, vinegar and glucose. He speaks of assays, acids, micro-centrifuge tubes and de-ionized water.

The water is purer than tap water and is more beneficial in his laboratory research, he says, explaining one of the many lessons he's learned.

"It's more than I needed to know about water honestly," he deadpans.

It's more than most young men his age would experience, period.

Scherb is spending his summer conducting research with Professor Carol Johnston as part of a paid internship he received from the Southwest Association for Education and Biomedical Research.

His sophomore science instructor urged him to enter an essay contest in the spring that asked how humane animal testing had helped someone he knew. Scherb wrote about his aunt and uncle, both who have suffered from diabetes.

Scherb won and got his pick of locations for a paid summer internship. On the list was the Mayo Clinic, Barrow Neurological Institute, Saint Joseph's Hospital Neurological Institute, a myriad hospitals around the Valley, and Johnston's labs at ASU's Polytechnic campus.

The ASU's Polytechnic campus lab intrigued him.

"It's a real interesting place. The research is intriguing. Up front is a VA Clinic where the research that's being done can be applied. And the campus is uncrowded and very friendly. It's so much better than I imagined."

Johnston said Scherb's choice of her lab for the internship is an honor.

"I think it is pretty significant that Keith chose to work in a lab at ASU's Polytechnic campus over labs at ASU Main and other research facilities around the Valley, such as Barrow," said Johnston. "He will do a report on his experience; that will increase ASU's Polytechnic campus exposure around the Valley."

Scherb's work is rather scientific.

First, he learned two laboratory assays - glucose and vitamin C - and determined vitamin C levels in orange juice and human plasma, and glucose levels in human plasma.

"These assays are not 'kits,' " Johnston said. "Keith has to measure out all volumes and pay careful attention to details. He has done a great job, and seems to understand the principles of the assays."

Then Scherb - an A and "sometimes B" student, he says - designed an experiment of his own.

Building on Johnston's previous work, Scherb is investigating the effects of vinegar ingestion immediately prior to a meal on post-meal blood glucose and vitamin C levels.

Johnston's research has already shown that taking vinegar before a meal will lessen the post-prandial rise in glucose, which is beneficial for diabetics. Since Vitamin C and glucose are similar structurally, they share a transport mechanism into the blood from the intestine. Since less glucose is entering the blood due to the vinegar, Scherb is hypothesizing that vinegar will enhance the bioavailability of vitamin C.

He's only using 2-3 subjects for two weeks. That's just a microcosm of a major university research study, but more scientific than any high schooler normally experiences.

Scherb hopes the internship and his research will help him get into college for an undergraduate degree and eventually into medical school.

And there's an added benefit to the internship, he says.

"Bragging rights," he says. "I hear my classmates saying 'I'm working at Harkins.' I say I'm working at an ASU lab. Beat that."