by Tony Moore
The HUB Social Hall is a big room. Ballroom big.
So walking into the Social Hall for the 29th annual Science Research Symposium—seeing hundreds of people crowding around the 77 posters that filled the space, students explaining various data points on these posters, questions and answers rolling back and forth through air thick with information—it wouldn’t have been hard to picture Jesse Pinkman slouching in and excitedly shouting, “Yeah, science!”
If you know Breaking Bad, you know this isn’t quite what Jesse had in mind, but his ebullient epithet sums up this event perfectly: With all of those posters detailing topics ranging from murine macrophages and immunohistochemistry to the hemlock woolly adelgid and subglacial pillow lava, it’s a cornucopia of chemistry, biology, earth sciences and neuroscience (to name just a few) that only the most science-averse couldn’t love.
Over at display No. 7, Rizwan Saffie ’14 (biochemistry & molecular biology) was fielding questions on his project, The Importance of Fucosyltransferases in Breast Cancer Metastasis. Saffie worked on the project last year in Dr. Yibin Kang's metastasis lab at Princeton University as part of Princeton's Summer Undergraduate Research Program in Molecular and Quantitative & Computational Biology. At station No. 13, Allyson Boyington ’15 (chemistry, environmental science, biochemistry & molecular biology) was holding court in front of Microwave Accelerated Deprotection of Aryl Silyl Ethers. While at No. 16, Byron Tannous ’14 (physics) and Michael Vecchio ’14 (physics) were explaining their Autonomous Heliostat Design for Natural Room Lighting.
It’s no secret that science is important, and the significance of the symposium itself extends from the students to the people in attendance to those who may one day be affected by the research on all those posters.
“The work I did in the Kang lab aims to understand breast cancer metastasis at the molecular level,” says Saffie. “Such an understanding could elucidate druggable targets for metastasis, which is the key killer in cancer—metastases of different cancers are responsible for about 90 percent of cancer deaths.”
Celeste Pilato ’15 (neuroscience) worked on her project last summer at Johns Hopkins University. It looks at spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a condition that occurs in 1 in 10,000 births worldwide, translating into 1 in 40 people being carriers for the disease. “But many individuals are not aware of SMA,” Pilato explains. “By raising awareness about it at the science symposium, it may spark another researcher’s interest, helping to treat this disease.”
For Boyington, the value of the symposium for the student researchers is just as clear. “Some people at the symposium are science professors, while others are students from disciplines outside of science,” she says. “This format teaches us how to communicate our findings effectively in a way that everyone can understand.”
Regardless of the subject tackled, the symposium and the research that led to it help students prepare for the world beyond the classroom.
Saffie was recently admitted into the University of Pennsylvania for a Ph.D. program in cell and molecular biology with a focus on cancer biology, while Boyington plans to pursue a graduate degree in medicinal or organic chemistry. Pilato, meanwhile, is preparing to take the MCAT this spring and will start on the path to becoming a pediatric neurologist.
“This summer, I’ll be returning to the same lab to continue working with mouse models of SMA,” she says. “I’ll also be working at a camp for children with neuromuscular disorders, including SMA. I am very excited to work directly with the children for whom I do research.”
Published April 23, 2014