Pre-college Interns get Head start for Science Careers

A five-week University of Arizona summer laboratory internship program continued to help produce future scientists. The 21 southern Arizona high school students and college freshmen gained hands-on research experience working in labs around the UA campus as part of the third annual KEYS – Keep Engaging Youth in Science – internship program.

UA's Bio5 Institute and the Southwest Environmental Health Science Center at the UA College of Pharmacy sponsor the program, which recently completed its third year. "It really opens up the world of science as a career for all these students. It gives the students hands-on experience to see if science is something they want to pursue as a career," said Kevin Hall, director of research training and career development at Bio5 and co-director KEYS. "This program is helping prepare the next generation of scientists."

Jonathan Ferng, 16, worked in the lab of Terrence J. Monks, professor and department head of pharmacology and toxicology at the UA College of Pharmacy. Ferng was involved in research to determine how serotonin transmitters in the brain function in the presence of MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, a recreational drug. "We're trying to clarify the cellular mechanisms and exactly how they work, because when you inject MDMA or take the pills, there are various side effects that have recent become a major public health problem," said Ferng, an incoming senior at University High School in Tucson. Ferng, who worked closely with mentors and graduate students Joe Herndon and Lucy Lizarraga in the lab, has gained experience doing bacterial transformation, DNA extraction, plating cell cultures, and analyzing samples using the lab's high-performance liquid chromatography – HPLC – instrument. Kersten Linsangan, another 2009 KEYS Student, worked closely with Dr. Lau in performing western blot analyses.

Interns are well equipped to leverage their KEYS experience to get paying research positions as university freshman, Hall said. And the program's goal of attracting students to a career as scientists seems to be working. "I hope to go to the UA and major in biochemistry, and to be a researcher," Ferng said. "I'm not sure which lab I'm going into but pharmacology and toxicology is really interesting for me right now. I'm really glad I got into this lab."

Undergraduate student, Stephen Karpen, and KEYS 2010 Students, Emily Reff and Jaynath Ganesan, worked during the summer in Dr. Monks and Dr. Lau's labs.