What do the area’s most brilliant high school and undergraduate students with a scientific bent do for the summer? They gain hands-on experience working with nanotechnology, bioinformatics, neuroscience, proteomics, and genomic analysis at George Mason University’s Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP). Competition for admittance is stiff. This year, 48 of the 306 applicants made it through the vigorous screening process. Fourteen have participated in prior years.
Researchers Dr. Lance A. Liotta and Dr. Emanuel F. Petricoin III launched ASSIP in 2007. More than 30 mentors volunteer to give students an opportunity to work on meaningful, real-life projects. Under the mentors’ guidance, ASSIP participants conduct experiments and contribute to published articles, books, and conferences. And in some instances, the students make patentable discoveries that change people’s lives.
Temple Douglas provides a prime example of what the students can achieve. During the 2009 program she had an idea about how to apply nanotechnology as a means to identify a new biomarker for Lyme disease. A high school senior at the time, Temple asked her mentor if she could continue working at the GMU lab after the summer program concluded. Her request was approved. The results of Temple’s research: Earlier, disease detection compared to current antibody based tests. INOVA Fairfax Hospital is conducting the Lyme Disease clinical trial.
This year’s ASSIP theme is grounded in creativity and communication—essential life skills that will aid students as they continue their education and then enter the workforce. Students work 9-5 from mid-June to mid-August. At the conclusion of the program participants will present their findings at a professional poster session.
Amy VanMeter, Director, has administered ASSIP since its inception. She crafted this year’s theme based on the intersection of employers’ and students’ needs. Students need to be able to apply what they’ve learned to new disciplines and effectively communicate their findings to an assortment of audiences. This summer they will learn to craft and deliver an appropriate message to the executive, the layperson, and the scientist.
Rebecca Kamen, a Northern Virginia Community College art professor ignited the students’ creativity. She presented a lecture describing the intersection between art and science, and then challenged the Aspiring Scientists to create art depicting their project. The idea to represent science through art has its roots in the very beginnings of science as a discipline. In addition to cataloguing their findings with pen and ink, early scientists drew and painted as a form of study and learning.
Modern technologies have changed the way people relate to external stimuli. The students’ requirement to represent their experiments through art helps them think about problem solving in a new light. Participants are excited by the opportunity to showcase their creativity in this unique manner. One of the pieces will be displayed at the Science Museum of Virginia.
It’s not too early to start planning next year’s summer vacation now. If you’re interested in applying for a spot in the 2012 ASSIP, the deadline is February 12.
Stay tuned for more on ASSIP. Some really inspiring things are cooking on the GMU campus and we’ll be taking a closer look in the coming days. You won’t want to miss it.