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Rising Scientists Awards at Child Mind Institute


The Child Mind Institute recently awarded ten high school students the 2014 Rising Scientists Award, honoring their excellence and commitment to scientific research. Here are the responses of a few to our questions.

1.  How did you first become interested in science?

Skye Malik (SM) - I first became interested in science when my Kindergarten class hatched ducklings. My five-year-old self was fascinated that there was actually something coming to life inside the egg.

Tynan Couture-Rashid (TCR)- My interest in science started with a fascination with nature. I remember that when I was much younger I owned many insect field guides and a ridiculous amount of dinosaur books. This interest in nature only grew broader as I went through school. In 8th grade I was in a great anatomy and physiology course and that’s when I became compelled by the complexities of the human body. Since then, I’ve gradually become more and more focused on our most complex organ, the brain.

Isabella Salas-Allende (ISA)- As a young girl, I dreamed of becoming a doctor. The stethoscope, the white coat, the comfortable shoes (typically crocs), the idea of promoting and restoring health, the constant learning, the novel techniques and breakthroughs –– it all fascinated me as a little girl. I would say to myself, “That could be me in a few years.”

Matthew Guido (MG)- Having a few family members in the field of medicine, I’ve grown up with an appreciation for science and its impact on people’s lives. A great experience during my freshman biology class inspired me to take a brand new 3-year elective being run by my school, Science Research. Taking this course allowed me to explore my scientific interests in more depth, such as neuroscience. Having a teacher as passionate as my Science Research advisor, Dr. Chin Chu, has been instrumental in allowing me to achieve my goals and made me more aware of the world of scientific research. Since then, my interest is science has grown tremendously, and I hope to continue to expand it during my years in college.

2.  How would you encourage other students to become interested in science?

SM- I would encourage other students to become interested in science by doing hands-on activities that relate to their interests. For me, this would include the physics of martial arts and the neuroscience of dyslexia.

TCR- I would encourage others to be interested in science by showing them the wonders in nature. I’d show them some amazing nature documentaries that are out there, and explore the vast diversity of life that exists on this small planet. Then we’d look at dinosaurs, because who doesn’t like dinosaurs?

ISA- Ask my brother what science is, and he will tell you it is a fat textbook full of isolated and static facts. Ask me what science is, and I will say that it is a miracle. It’s dynamic! Science did not end with the latest edition of my Biology textbook, and it will not end until the whole natural world is explored and explained. Everywhere you look, science is evident, including in our day-to-day activities. Science is definitely not confined to the classroom.

I would encourage students to be inquisitive. Why is the sky blue? How come humans speak while animals do not? Why does a soccer ball travel in a projectile motion? Why do we use baking power and baking soda? There are so many questions waiting to be answered. All we need to do is have the patience and extraordinary drive to ask and seek the answer. There is also still a stereotypical scientist image. The image some of my friends will tell me about when they think of a scientist is an introverted, nerdy researcher with a lab coat and gloves, simply pouring liquid into test tubes all day. Wrong! In fact, some of the scientists I have had a privilege to meet are witty, fashionable, and hip.

MG- I would encourage other students to take advantage of all the opportunities their school has to offer. For me, this opportunity took the form of the Science Research class I elected to take beginning in my sophomore year. If you’re passionate about something that you’re school doesn’t offer, do not let this limit you. Explore outside of your school for courses, internships, summer programs, and research opportunities.

3.What is the most compelling scientific experiment or body of work you have come across?

SM- The most compelling scientific experiment I have come across took place during Environmental Science. I had to create a self-sustaining biosphere and maintain life for two weeks. This was unlike any other single-class lab I had done in the past because it was very self-guided and depended on my own research.

TCR- The most compelling work I’ve come across is that of Pierre-Paul Broca. His 19th century work on the localization of brain function was key in showing that certain processes are tied to specific parts of the brain, specifically language processing to what is now called Broca’s area.

ISA- The human brain remains a miraculous mystery, and yet the very little we do know is more than enough to fill whole libraries. The mere fact that new discoveries are changing the way we view and understand the brain is astonishing. Ideas that we accept today can be rejected or modified with new evidence discovered tomorrow.

The most compelling scientific experiment I have come across is the work being conducted in Dr. Bulloch’s Laboratory of Nueroendocrinology at Rockefeller University.  Until recently, dendritic cells (DC) were considered absent players in the brain’s immune surveillance. However, in 2008, work done in the laboratory identified DCs in specific regions of the steady-state brain and in different models of neuro-inflammation, suggesting that DCs are indeed active players in brain immune surveillance alongside resident microglia. Now we know that DCs are professional antigen-presenting cells that bridge the innate and adaptive immune systems. When encountering a pathogen, DCs can take up and present antigens to inactive T-lymphocytes, thus initiating an adaptive immune response. To study the role of DCs and other brain immune cells in neuroinflammation, Dr. Bulloch’s lab used an intranasal Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV) infection model. VSV leads to progressive neuroencephalitis with symptoms ranging from paralysis to death. Previously it was found that four days after VSV administration, DCs accumulated in the infected areas in the olfactory bulb. I was enthralled with the work of Dr. Bulloch and her colleagues and was privileged to have the opportunity this summer to conduct research in the lab under the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Gagnidize, a post doc in the lab. Under the guidance of Dr. Gagnidize, I examined the anti-viral response in a mouse brain and investigated DC and microglia involvement in a VSV-infected brain at later stages of infection (6 to 7 days post infection), a time point when physical signs of sickness appear. We also examined the location and type of immune cells that were activated in response to the virus.

MG- Since my Science Research mentorship has focused on functional MRI, I have found the advances made in the area of brain imaging to be particularly fascinating. Modern brain imaging techniques have revolutionized the understanding of the brain and greatly improved diagnosis in ways that were unthinkable just 25 years ago.

4. Who was your mentor and what role did they play?

SM- My mentors are Dr. Sally and Dr. Bennett Shaywitz of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Their neuroscience research with regards to dyslexia gave my family and me relief, hope, and inspiration after I was diagnosed with dyslexia.

TCR- The neuroscience teacher at Saint Ann's School, Daniel Lerman, has been vitally important in my growth as a student and really instrumental in shaping my interest in neuroscience. I was first taught a few units by him in an advanced biology class two years ago. The next year I took his course called Neuropsychology and outside of class he coached me for a neuroscience trivia competition. Now, we're beginning to look at different intelligence tests through the lens of statistics and mathematics.

ISA- I was truly privileged to be mentored by Dr. Gagnidize in Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology. My seven-weeks with Dr. Gagnidize was highly educational, inspiring, and illuminating. I was encouraged to read relevant literature and ask a myriad of questions. I was encouraged to voice my opinions and ideas on how and why our lab results did not come out as expected, for example.  Not only did Dr. Gagnidize teach me important lab techniques and topics such as pipetting, immunofluorescent staining, slicing mouse brains and olfactory bulbs into sagittal and coronal cross-sections, record keeping, how to use a confocal microscope, how to assemble a poster, how to write an abstract and lay summary, neuroimmunology, microglia, dendritic cells, etc. but she also inspired me. Her passion for science and researching was contagious. She allowed me to step into the life of a researcher, and I feel head over heels. Because of my time with Dr. Gagnidize, I would like to continue researching and pushing the boundaries of science. I know it takes patience and dedication but I would like to obtain an MD-PhD.   

MG- Over the past year, I’ve been working with Professor Zhishun Wang of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute as part of my high school’s Science Research class. Dr. Wang, an Associate Professor of Clinical Neurobiology, specializes in developing software packages to analyze functional imaging data. I’ve been able to gain firsthand exposure to the world of scientific research, and become greatly interested in neuroscience. In addition, my high school Science Research advisor, Dr. Chu, has served as a mentor, and been a source of great advice.

5. What kind of work would you like to do in the future?

SM- In the future, I would like to work with children with special educational needs. That is why I am compelled to learn more about the neuroscience behind learning disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

TCR- As of now, I would really like to work on exploring the brain from a behavioral and chemical perspective, whether clinically, or through research, or through teaching. I want to look at what happens in our brains as we react to stimuli and why we react in the way we do, and the effect drugs have on those responses.

ISA- I aspire to become a neurosurgeon but I would love to continue doing research! I would like to obtain an MD-PhD.  Neuroscience excites and fascinates me, and I would love to pursue it in college. I am also an enthusiast of the classics and would like to minor in Latin.  Latin (linguistics) and Neuroscience are very interrelated. I would love to explore our cerebral cortex, which enables us to interact with each other. In fact, the cerebral cortex is what makes us unique with other mammals.   

MG- While I want to leave my options open, I hope to have a career in science, whether it’s scientific research or a career in medicine. Whatever path I decide to take, I hope to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I feel like science gives me the ideal opportunity to make this possible.

6. What do you like to do in your free time?

SM- In my free time, I like to practice taekwondo, which has taught me a great deal of determination. My dedication to this sport has earned my black belt. I enjoy performing in my school's plays and musicals as well as in the handbell choir.

TCR- I learn a lot in my free time. There's a vast amount of information that's available online and on paper, and by learning, asking questions, and answering those questions by learning more, you can really discover a lot. Besides that however, I like building computers and experimenting with them. I also really enjoy watching good movies.

ISA- I enjoy playing soccer outdoors with friends and family, whether it is kicking the soccer ball around with my brother or scrimmaging with friends. I am also apart of the Manhasset Rebels in the Long Island Junior Soccer League Division I. I also have a passion for food. I am a daredevil when it comes to trying new exotic dishes and trying to replicate or refashion classic and modern dishes. I have been told I make a stellar spicy coconut, spinach pasta!

MG- Much of my time is taken up by schoolwork and extracurricular activities, but to relax I enjoy playing and watching sports, playing the piano, and spending time with my friends.



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