Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Teen Scientists RISE Up to Research Challenges

Emory University's chair of biology Victor Corces has opened the doors of his lab to Atlanta public high school students.

Concerned about how to cultivate the next generation of scientists and increase their diversity, Corces developed RISE -- Research Internship and Science Education. Named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor in 2006, Corces was one of just 20 U.S. scientists chosen to receive $1 million grant to fund education initiatives when he was named Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor in 2006.

The high schoolers work alongside graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the lab, getting hands on experience. "What I do is involve them in a group project—one that is very important to everything we are doing in the lab," Corces says.

Current RISE students Maza Rose Tchedou and Sharonta Johnson from Atlanta's Carver High School recently won second and third place awards at the state science fair. And Tchedou was selected to compete at an international science fair in Reno, Nevada, in May. They both plan to study science; Johnston will attend Georgia State University next year, and Tchedou hopes to attend Emory.

The Corces lab is at the forefront of examining how different proteins form loops of DNA threads, or chromatin fibers, that can then interact. Lab members have identified several important proteins involved in regulating gene expression, and Corces believes the high school students can find more.

"It's easy for them to find something that looks important—but then they have to study it to find out if it really is," he says. Besides adding a sense of competition to engage students in the lab, Corces also helps them understand that their discoveries might one day lead to a breakthrough in the study of genetic diseases like muscular dystrophy.

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