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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

September 2018

Sixty-five students showcase summer research projects

The end of July marked the culmination of the 2018 Summer Intern Program (SIP), which provided 55 high school, undergraduate, and graduate students a unique research opportunity at NIEHS.

The annual poster session, held July 26, offered the interns a chance to describe their research projects and findings to attendees from the institute and the local area. Ten interns from the NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP; see sidebar) also presented their projects.

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., left, Kelsey Shelofsky NIEHS and NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., left, listened as Kelsey Shelofsky, from Duke University, explained the effect of body weight on the pace of puberty, which she studied in the Clinical Research Branch. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Katy Hamilton, SIP coordinator for the NIEHS Office of Fellows’ Career Development (OFCD), said the summer was busy with activities such as those listed below.

  • A career panel.
  • Seminars on preparing for medical or graduate school.
  • Journal clubs and workshops led by NIEHS fellows.
  • The Three-Minute Communication Challenge.

Hamilton coordinated the panel of judges who rated the interns on their presentations and research. The winners received awards during an ice cream social later that day.

Sempowski, left Durham School of the Arts student Sempowski, left, received his award from Hamilton after the judges tallied the scores. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Knowledge beyond the classroom

North Carolina Central University junior Arianna Lawrence is working for the next year with Darlene Dixon, D.V.M., Ph.D., in the National Toxicology Program (NTP) Molecular Pathogenesis Group. Bound for medical school, Lawrence applied for NSCP specifically because she was “excited about immersion [into research] and to work at NIEHS, which does so much for the public good.”

Lawrence added that her favorite part of the experience was to see real-world applications of what she learned from textbooks.

Austin Zhang also plans to pursue a medical degree after completing his undergraduate degree at Duke University. He participated in the SIP this summer to get hands-on experience, especially with animals.

Austin Zhang Zhang, right, who interned in the lab of Kenneth Korach, Ph.D., presented his research on the interaction between luteinizing hormone and estrogen receptor sensitivity. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Embracing new challenges

Research is a trying experience, fraught with unique challenges. Hamilton reflected that her favorite part of being involved in the program was seeing how much the interns grew. “For many of our interns, this is their first research experience, and it is a formative experience in their lives,” she said. “It’s great being a part of their training and seeing the transition from the beginning of the summer.”

Ailin Xu, a senior at Panther Creek High School, had the opportunity to do research with Paul Wade, Ph.D., in the Eukaryotic Transcriptional Regulation Group. Her most important lesson this summer was that of patience. “[Even though] things don’t always go your way, you have to keep trying,” she said.

Natalie Bell, from East Carolina University, worked with Alison Harrill, Ph.D., in the Biomolecular Screening Branch. Her project involved using diversity outbred mice to identify transcriptional changes that accompany drug-induced liver injury.

Bell explains her poster Bell, right, described her work profiling gene expression changes during drug-induced liver injury with NTP scientists Alex Merrick, Ph.D., center, and Katelyn Lavrich, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

These mice proved to be a good choice for modeling patient susceptibility to adverse drug reactions. “As opposed to inbred homogenous mice, the heterogeneity serves as a good proxy to the human population,” Bell explained. She found that her biggest challenges were learning the terminology and getting the software to work.

Distinguished mentors shepherd young scientists

Erin Sley describes her poster Sley described her research in the Perinatal and Early Life Epidemiology Group, which she will take with her as she finishes her master’s degree in maternal and child health at UNC. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Despite a summer of intense learning and frantic activity, interns were able to take encouragement from their research mentors. Bell’s favorite part was working with Harrill. “She was always positive and helped me learn so much this summer,” Bell said.

Erin Sley, a master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), interned at NIEHS so she could work with Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., and fellow Emma Rosen. Sley was not disappointed.

“I had so many [challenges], but they never felt insurmountable because of my mentors,” said Sley. “They provided me with independence to do my best, and weekly meetings for guidance along the way.”

(Anika Dzierlenga, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NTP Toxicology Branch.)


Hannah Schrader discusses her poster and work Hannah Schrader, left, from NCSU, is using resources from the Environmental Polymorphisms Registry as part of her NSCP research. OFCD Director Tammy Collins, Ph.D., listened to her findings. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Kasey Fang holds her award Hamilton, right, congratulated Fang, who tied for second place among undergraduates. Fang used resources from the Sister Study in her award-winning research. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Tasneem Essader poses with her award Essader, left, used Environmental Polymorphisms Registry resources in her research, which tied for second place in the undergraduate category. Hamilton, right, presented the award. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Scientists study ice cream depletion From left, NIEHS scientists Scoville, Robert Petrovich, Ph.D., and Tom Kunkel, Ph.D., studied the rate of ice cream depletion during the ice cream social celebrating the interns’ achievements. Mentors provide the refreshments. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Yasmine Hossamy NCSU student Hossamy, left, received her award for best NSCP poster from Bhattacharjee, for her research in the Neurobiology Lab. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Taner Russ holds her award NSCP participant Russ, left, won honorable mention for her research in the NTP lab on how certain exposures affect mouse mammary epithelial cells, presented to her by Bhattacharjee. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Samir Nacer holds his award Hamilton, right, congratulated Nacer on his first-place prize for the undergraduate poster presentation, based on his research in the Neurobiology Lab. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
John Murphy holds his award Hamilton, right, presented UNC student Murphy with the graduate student poster award for his summer study into links between severe acne and breast cancer. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
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