Mentorship in USciences' Lab Helps High School Student Advance Research

By Jenna Pizzi

Published on June 25, 2018

Studying bacteriophages, Judy Zhong could only delve so far into their inner workings of the virus in her biology lab at Upper Dublin High School. But after winning the bronze medal among all 10th graders at last year’s Delaware Valley Science Fairs and advancing to present at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, she sought lab space where she could expand her research. 

Judy Zhong in her USciences lab space.Zhong, now a junior at Upper Dublin, met Jason Heindl, PhD, assistant professor of biological sciences, while attending a winners’ breakfast at USciences last spring. Dr. Heindl, who had judged Zhong’s poster at the fair, was impressed by her project and granted her request for space to work in his lab after school, over the summer, and on the weekends.

With the guidance of Dr. Heindl, Zhong was able to advance her hypothesis and explore how the bacteriophage viruses can communicate with each other. With access to a Thermal Cycler, or PCR machine, she was able to clone DNA, and using gel electrophoresis, she began to ask bigger questions about the bacteriophage.

“I was able to expand and advance my project and do more interesting work, in my opinion, on phage therapy,” said Zhong. 

Judy Zhong works in the lab.In addition to materials and machinery, Zhong has gained a mentor in Dr. Heindl who has been a valuable resource to talk about her research ambitions and help guide her scientific process.

“I’ve become more familiar with molecular biology techniques by working with Dr. Heindl,” she said. “Initially, I was thinking very narrowly, but Dr. Heindl has provided me advice so I came up with a bunch of ideas, and I was able to bounce those ideas off of a professional and someone who has had experience with research for many years.”  

Dr. Heindl said the mentorship has been equally beneficial for him.

“The research that sheJudy Zhong works in the lab. does is not something that I work on so that has been exciting for me to have to think outside of my own research box,” Dr. Heindl said. “I think mentoring high school students is super important for [current scientists] to bring up the next generation of scientists, and I really want to advocate for scientists to continue doing science as they go along in their education.”

Zhong, who hopes to pursue an MD, PhD, or both, said she is grateful to have the experience of working in a university setting before her undergraduate years begin.

“I’ve also become accustomed to the collaborative environment in the scientific community because in my lab there are a lot of other students as well, and I get to learn from them,” said Zhong. “From attending lab meetings over the summer, I learned about all of the interesting research that these other students are doing, and it helped inspire me to continue to work on my project and also gave me some new ideas on how to expand my own research.”

Judy Zhong works in the lab.Zhong presented her latest research into bacteria phages conducted at USciences titled “Lytic Induction of Phage phi3T by Genetically Modifying the Arbitrium System” at the 2018 Delaware Valley Science Fairs and won the top overall prize, Grand Gold, in the science category at the 2018 Genius Olympiad. She hopes to continue her research in Dr. Heindl’s lab.

 

 

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