Biochemistry Lab Positively Reacts to Passionate High School Intern

By Colby Gallagher

Published on October 11, 2019

When nearing summer break, most high school sophomores are looking forward to taking time off from classwork and studying, but Emily Shang isn’t like most of her peers. Instead of taking a couple months off, she searched the biographies of local professors with interesting lab work before landing on Zhihong Wang PhD, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

“I really wanted to work in her lab and I looked at her research, everything was of interest to me,” said Shang. “That’s really exciting for me because I’ve only gotten to read about this stuff and now I get to really do it.”

Dr. Wang’s lab studies BRAF, a specific protein that’s highly mutated in cancer and tumorous cells.

“By understanding how it behaves differently in tumor cells, we can think about more creative strategies to target this protein,” said Dr. Wang. “Only targeting the cells that behave badly in tumors, not normal cells.”

Dr. Wang’s lab has published six papers and has two more in preparation. She hopes that her research will help find a cure for this specific mutated protein.

There are multiple undergrad and graduate students in the lab, but Dr. Wang said Shang is the only high school student to contact her about a summer research internship. She said it was both exciting and flattering to have a promising young student join the team. The chemistry department at USciences took on 10 student interns this summer including rising high school juniors and seniors and students who were preparing to enter USciences as first-year students.

Dr. Zhihong Wang and high school intern, Emily ShangThis was made possible through a National Institutes of Health Grant that aims to expose students to research at primary undergraduate institutions.

“For this society, we need to encourage more young scientists to step into the STEM field,” she said, referring to specializations in science, technology, engineering and math. “The earlier, the better. Like Emily, she’s very interested in science, but she doesn’t have access or any hands-on experience in a research lab.”

Throughout the summer, Shang learned how to do different procedures and run tests that are applicable in multiple labs, like molecular biology or cell biology. Though she’s only entering her junior year of high school, the experience will provide new insight to what she’s learning.

“A lot of kids my age or my peers don’t get to do that stuff,” she said. “A lot of it is mostly reading textbooks and writing, nothing of the real labwork stuff, working with cells or anything like that. Obviously it’s a really great opportunity for me and I’m really grateful.”

Shang’s enthusiasm and passion was infectious, according to Dr. Wang. The other students were excited to share their knowledge with a possible future scientist.

“This lab has definitely broadened my perspective and caused me to think about getting my PhD and going down that career path as a definite option for me in the future,” said Shang.

She encourages other high school students with a passion for science to do their own homework and find a lab that interests them so they, too, can have hands-on experience and a solid foundation for choosing a career as they apply to college.

Categories: News, Misher College of Arts and Sciences, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Faculty, Research