"The Race is So On":
Next Generation of Scientists Find Their Stride
By Jennifer O'Sullivan
Two participants of the Spring Enrichment Tutorials at The
Scripps Research Institute (TSRI)Claudia Hernandez,
a senior at Chula Vista High School, and Marvin Hamlin, a
junior at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing
Artsare going head-to-head. Both claim that someday
they will cure cancer.
"The race is on," says Hernandez. "It is so on!"
Call it youthful arrogance or youthful exuberance, the 18
high school students accepted into TSRI's High School Research
Education Program have got it and TSRI's program gives focus
to their ambition. Throughout April and May, these students
will participate in weekly tutorials on aspects of modern
cellular and molecular biology and chemistry.
The young participants were selected from a large pool of
applicants by Vice President of Communications Robin Clark
(formerly Goldsmith); Program Coordinator Jennifer O'Sullivan;
and representatives from the Neighborhood House Association
(which administers funds from the San Diego Workforce Partnership).
The program's other funding sources include the Hearst Foundation
and the French Fund, administered by Wells Fargo Bank.
TSRI doctoral candidates teach the tutorials, which challenge
the students at a level that matches their aspirations. The
combinatorial chemistry tutorial, for example, was designed
by doctoral candidates Scott Wolkenberg and Andrew Su. With
Su graduating in May and Wolkenberg to follow, second-year
graduate students Brendan Crowley and Byron Purse are taking
up this torch.
"The purpose of the [April 27] lab is to demonstrate the
fundamentals of combinatorial chemistry as it is applied to
drug discovery," says Purse. "We wanted to illustrate how
known mixtures of candidate compounds can be prepared employing
reliable chemical linking strategies and [then show students]
how these mixtures could be screened for a specific activity,
in this case antibiotic."
In the lab exercise, three aldehydes are reacted with three
hydrazines to form nine hydrazones in known mixtures. This
is the combinatorial library. One of the resulting compounds,
guanofuracin, is a known antibiotic. After carrying out the
reactions, students inoculate agar plates with a broth culture
of E. coli and bore cups in the plates with the large
end of a glass pasteur pipet. A few drops from each mixture
of compounds are then placed in each cup. After incubating
the plates overnight, a bacterial lawn develops, leaving a
clear plaque around any cup containing a compound with antibiotic
"The students did really well," Purse reports. "They were
really enthusiastic about it and actually finished faster
than we expected. They haven't seen the results yet, but nearly
all of the plates look perfect."
Students will be able to observe the plates next Wednesday
during the "Drug Development & Diseases" class. Crowley and
Purse will show them how the results are deconvoluted and
the active compound "discovered."
"We do lab experiments at school, but not with E. coli,"
Marvin Hamlin observes. "I was able to understand the lab
preparation, protocol, and procedure. And you know, I didn't
come home with green fingers."
They Learn Something New Every Week
In addition to combinatorial chemistry, other topics covered
during the Spring Enrichment Tutorials include HIV, forensics,
mass spectrometry, cells, and microscopy. Classes entitled
"Grants & Money" and "Policy, Ethics & Current Events," in
which students discuss difficult policy decisions regarding
stem cell research and the allocation of anti-HIV drugs in
developing countries, give high school students much to think
about. The myriad topics also stimulate the students' ideas
about areas they might like to work in during the more deliberate,
focused summer internshipthe second part of the program.
"After the HIV class I really wanted to do work on the human
immunodeficiency virus," says Claudia Hernandez. "But then
after Mike [Dorrell, graduate student and tutorial coordinator]
talked about angiogenesis on Saturday, I might like to work
on something related to that instead. I guess I want to do
For graduate students like Dorrell who choose to participate
in the tutorials, the opportunity to expose high school students
to current research and contemporary issues in science is
truly rewarding. "It's great to see how excited they get about
science," Dorrell says. "And interacting with graduate students
provides them with a glimpse of what their academic futures
Hernandez weighs in with the students' perspective. "The
instructors are so educated and well-versed in their fields,"
she says. "They never have that look [that says], 'please
don't ask me any questions!'"
Hamlin adds, "I love working with the grad students because
it shows the kind of dedication one needs to be a good scientist."
Speaking of the pursuit of good science, what does Hamlin
think of the fact that Hernandezsoon-to-be microbiology
student at the University of California at Santa Barbara and
his competition in the quest to cure cancerwill be leaving
for college a full year before he does?
"Head starts don't mean everything," he responds. "I'll
be catching up soon, and when I do find my cure for cancer
I'll be sure to let everyone know that I once worked at The
Scripps Research Institute."
Ah, youth. Must be spring again!
For the combinatorial chemistry lab that TSRI graduate students
Scott Wolkenberg and Andrew Su designed for high school students,
see their publication in the Journal
of Chemical Education, 2001, 78, 784.
Lincoln High School student Karina Garcia
(front) prepares an agar plate during the combinatorial chemistry
lab at a recent spring enrichment tutorial. In the background,
Andrew Su, who helped design the lab, assists Helix Charter
School student Amy Leff (middle) and Mission Bay High School
student Bich Tran (far left). Photo by Jennifer
Typical results from the lab: agar plates
grown overnight are covered by a lawn of bacteria except for
areas surrounding antibiotic compounds.
Marvin Hamlin (far left) enjoys a break
during the Saturday spring enrichment tutorial along with
(clockwise) Reinhart Arquiza, Bich Tran, Mike Dorrell, and
Angel Nguyen. Photo by Jennifer O'Sullivan.