Aspiring Scientists Take Part in Mason Research

By Jessica Bases

High school, graduate, and undergraduate students in Mason’s Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) tackled important neuroscience issues this summer in Mason neuroscientist Ted Dumas’ Physiological and Behavioral Neuroscience in Juveniles (PBNJ) Lab. Researchers in the lab, which is part of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, explored how memory develops and investigated physiological and molecular substrates responsible for memory. Breakthroughs in the PBNJ lab will lead to better understanding of the neural bases of learning and the neural pathologies associated with congenital and neurodegenerative disorders.

Mason neuroscientist Ted Dumas, left, works in his lab at Krasnow Institute with a student from the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

This summer, eight ASSIP students were involved in these research activities. Dumas paired the students from the Aspiring Scientists Program with experienced student researchers who guided them through the scientific process and trained them to produce reliable scientific results. Mason psychology graduate student Robert Gardner and neuroscience major Sarah Albani, an ASSIP alumna, were two of the mentors who exercised their teaching skills this summer.

Gardner mentored aspiring scientists Himika Rahman from Thomas Jefferson High School and Alexa Corso from Oakton High School and 2011 program participants Man-Hua Zhu and Akshay Deverakonda. He considers his participation as an ASSIP mentor beneficial to both his short- and long-term professional goals. After completing his PhD at Mason, Gardner hopes to conduct and supervise original basic scientific research. The research he conducted with the ASSIP team is currently being prepared for publication. Gardner is thankful for the students’ contributions and was impressed by their “sound educational foundation” and “motivation to learn new concepts and techniques.”

Himika Rahman from Thomas Jefferson High School and Alexa Corso of Oakton High School work on neuroscience research in Ted Dumas’ lab as part of the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP). Photo by Alexis Glenn.

Similarly, Albani considers mentoring to be a rewarding experience, especially when working with such bright and inquisitive students. “It kept me on my toes, brushing up on information and details that I may have forgotten, or procedures that have become second nature, in order to be able to convey it to someone else in depth and breadth,” Albani says. “I try to make an extra effort to break the layers down when I’m teaching or training others to help them build a more salient and complete picture.”

As an ASSIP alumna, Albani appreciates the value of the internship program. “What I learned through my work in the lab, I guarantee I could never have learned from textbooks or class lectures. Nothing equates to being immersed in a setting and having to troubleshoot through problems in real time, which makes this learning experience much more profound, not to mention applicable.”

The Aspiring Scientists also enjoy the presence of these mentors in the lab and are benefiting from the experience. Corso is enthusiastic about her work with memory, a passion inspired by the Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore movie 50 First Dates and the story of Clive Wearing, a British conductor who suffered from amnesia. She describes the lab setting as “a fun atmosphere.” Not only does she enjoy performing experiments herself, but she is also intrigued by learning more about the research conducted by the large team of students and scientists in the PBNJ lab.

“I am impressed by the quality of students the ASSIP program recruits,” says Dumas, who is also an assistant professor of molecular neuroscience at Mason. “I feel better about the future of science in the United States when engaged in programs like ASSIP.”

This article originally appeared in the fall 2012 issue of the ASSIP newsletter.

To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.

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