REU 2012 Program
Two Top Tallahassee Community College Students Blossom at MagLab
By Kathleen Laufenberg
Thanks to a science-advocacy program for underrepresented minorities, two of the 17 college students doing MagLab internships this summer are from Tallahassee Community College.
Jessica Saintibert is doing cutting-edge research involving cholesterol and membranes that mimic the HIV virus, while Tallahassee native Jasmin Wilson is learning how to find trace elements in volcanic rocks.
Jasmin Wilson prepares a sample of volcanic rock in one of the geochemistry clean labs.
Its awesome being here, Saintibert, 20, said. The people here are so passionate about their research, and theyre so careful to make sure everything is done correctly. I was like, wow! The experience you get here … it opens your mind up.
Searching for an HIV vaccine
Saintiberts mentor is Dr. Likai Song, whose groundbreaking research is aimed at solving one of the worlds most complex medical challenges: the development of an HIV vaccine. Song is both a structural biologist and a physician, a MagLab scholar scientist and a research associate at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass.
Song was also singled out for a prestigious award from The Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery, an international network of scientists dedicated to advancing promising HIV-vaccine candidates to clinical trials. In 2011, the group designated him as one of its six Young/Early Career Investigator honorees.
Working with Dr. Song has really opened my eyes to this disease, said Saintibert, a Haitian native whose family moved to Orlando when she was 14. I knew there were a lot of people who had it, but I didnt realize there were, like, 34 million infected with HIV. They have treatments, but … we need to get ahead of this disease and find a cure.
Saintibert has also worked closely with visiting Chinese scholar Lu Yu, who has shown her how an electron magnetic resonance instrument is used to analyze samples.
I have 11 pages of notes about just turning on the machine, working with the software and how to get everything going smoothly, she said.
Diversity in science
Both Saintibert and Wilson are enrolled in TCCs Florida-Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, a program funded by the National Science Foundation. Its goal is to increase the number of underrepresented minorities pursuing college degrees and careers in STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math.
Its really helped me, said Saintibert, who hopes to become a medical doctor. Especially the tutors, with my chemistry and math. Thats how I passed inorganic chemistry and trigonometry.
Jessica Saintibert and visiting Chinese scholar Lu Yu review some of the results from one of Yus experiments.
Both of them are wonderful model students and real leaders, said Calandra Stringer, TCCs associate dean of curriculum.
Wilson, 20, said shes been fascinated by the MagLab since elementary school.
I can remember visiting with my class from W.T. Moore Elementary School when I was in the fifth grade; it really made an impression on me, she said. I was so excited when I heard Id been accepted into the internship program, it made my day. This has really been a new and incredible experience. It has actually given me an insight into what I might be doing when I graduate.
Trace elements, tough competition
Wilson is working with Vincent Salters, the labs director of geochemistry and a Florida State University professor, and with Rupsa Roy, a graduate research assistant. Theyve taught her how to use state-of-the-art equipment to detect niobium and tantalum, trace elements, in basaltic rocks. The presence of niobium and tantalum can signal that the rock came from deep in the earths mantle.
One of the most interesting things Ive done is to learn how to use the clean labs, said the Lincoln High School graduate, who noted that it was her high school science teacher Steve Fannin who first got her interested in chemistry.
In a clean lab, you must remove your shoes, cover your feet in special booties and wear a special lab coat, hood or hair net and sometimes even protective glasses.
Competition is fierce for a paid summer internship in the MagLabs Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. This year, 153 highly qualified applicants applied.
Once accepted, interns assist in pioneering research in physics, chemistry, biological sciences, geochemistry, magnet science and engineering. They learn firsthand how to use advanced technology while working alongside some of the finest scientists, magnet designers and engineers in the world.
For more information contact Jose Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 645-0033.