Future Scientists Give Up Summer Vacation to Work in MSU Research Labs

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August 20, 2010

Ten young scientists were hard at work in Michigan State University’s research laboratories this summer. But they are not MSU’s ten newest faculty members. They were high school juniors who were selected to participate in the Future Scientist Program, an eight-week summer program for Lansing Public School students.

The pilot program was coordinated by MSU's Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies and the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute in partnership with the American Cancer Society and Lansing Public Schools. The goal of the program—which began June 28 and ends August 20—is to encourage high school students to pursue careers as research scientists, specifically in the area of cancer research.

"Scientific research is the ultimate key to controlling and curing cancer,” says Vicki Rakowski, RN, chief operating officer of the American Cancer Society, Great Lakes Division. “The Future Scientist Program is our way of promoting cancer research as a career to young and talented students through a unique educational opportunity. This program is designed to keep the pipeline of future scientists full of talented young minds who will one day usher in the next generation of discovery to fight this disease."

The students had the opportunity to interact with MSU researchers in their campus laboratories as well as with peers who share their interest in the sciences. Participants spent 40 hours a week in the labs, working on a research project under the mentorship of a university professor. The students were also required to attend weekly discussions and seminars, and participate in field trips. Each student received a $2,000 stipend from the American Cancer Society.

Timothy D. (TD) Armstrong, a Sexton High School student, was mentored by R. Mark Worden, professor of chemical engineering and materials science.

Armstrong says he found out about the Future Scientist Program through his physics teacher. When he first learned that he had been accepted, Armstrong says, “I was very grateful and excited but also somewhat nervous because I knew how much of a challenge this would be. But I know that more opportunities will open up for me because of this.”

And what would make a high school student want to give up eight weeks of summer vacation to work in a lab? “My summers can get kind of boring at times,” Armstrong says. “I was more than happy to be able to do something constructive.”

Armstrong (in photo at left) worked with Worden and his team on research at the interface of biotechnology and nanotechnology. “Nanomaterials, which are about 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a hair, have unique and desirable properties because of their extremely small size. Our lab is studying how engineered nanomaterials interact with biological structures, such as enzymes and cell membranes,” says Worden. “TD’s research could advance our ability to develop functional nanomaterials that are both safe and effective, including nanotherapeutics that kill cancer cells but don’t harm normal cells.”

Audrey Meredith, a junior at Eastern High School, worked in the research lab of Melissa Baumann, associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science and associate dean of MSU’s Honors College.

“Our research team of faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students had the opportunity to mentor highly motivated and talented high school students and introduce them to the rapidly growing area of biomaterials,” Baumann says. Meredith worked with Baumann’s team to develop scaffolds for bone tissue engineering and examine the effects of surface properties of the ceramic scaffold on the resulting cell behavior.

Twenty Lansing-area students had applied for the program. Selection criteria included a 500-word essay, standardized test scores, an interview, and letters of recommendation from high school teachers and counselors.

"The Lansing School District is thrilled to be a part of this exciting partnership,” says Jim Davis, deputy superintendent of the Lansing School District. “It is an endeavor that helps to fulfill the mission of all of the partners by promoting student learning, reaching out to the larger community, and affecting the future common good for all people."

On the final day of the program, participants presented their research projects to an audience of researchers, parents, and students.

For more information about the Future Scientist Program, visit https://ctsi.msu.edu/sites/default/files/content/FSP%20booklet%202-1-10.pdf