Student Symposium Caps Off 2015 Summer Intern Program
Undergraduate and high school interns presented the results of their 10-week laboratory experiences last week, in a student symposium composed of poster presentations, scientific talks and finally, awards and cake.
BTI’s Plant Genome Research Program symposium simulates a scientific conference and provides an opportunity for the interns to polish their presentation skills and exhibit their hard-earned results to the BTI community. The annual activity is hosted by the Education and Outreach department. Faculty, students and staff attended the symposium, along with friends and family of the interns.
“The students’ work, as usual, is quite impressive,” said BTI Professor and poster judge Klaus Apel.
Juan Gonzales, who is originally from Colombia but is studying biochemistry at New College of Florida, gave a talk on his work in the Martin laboratory to develop a reporter system where parts of a plant will glow blue in response to bacterial infection.
“My experience was really valuable,” said Gonzales, “It confirmed the fact that I want to do science.” But perhaps most valuable was observing how scientists think through problems and learning to troubleshoot. In his own project, Gonzales made progress but faced difficulties with turning on genes in the right part of the plant to make it glow blue at the right time.
“I knew that science doesn’t work a lot of the time, but I got to experience that truly first hand,” he said. “Being a researcher isn’t necessarily coming up with results, it’s having the motivation and determination to tackle the problems that you’re always going to come across.”
Despite the challenges, Gonzales plans to attend graduate school to study biochemistry in plants.
Ithaca High School senior Lindsay Fei presented her poster on the metabolic pathway that milkweed plants use to make cardiac glycosides—compounds that plants use as natural pesticides, but humans use to treat heart problems.
“I was terrified at the beginning,” she said, noting that she had no previous research experience. “But l learned everything along the way. I know way more now than I did six weeks ago. It was definitely worth it.”
Though unsure of her future career path, Fei plans to explore different fields in science and math in college.
Brenda and Kurt Brown attended the symposium to see their daughter Lydia present her poster on tomato leaf development.
“This was so fascinating for her,” said Brenda Brown. “She was excited every morning to come in and it just worked out wonderfully – everything was a learning experience.” Lydia Brown will soon begin her first year at Houghton College, where she plans to study genetics and molecular biology.
To conclude the day, BTI Professor Georg Jander announced the winners of the symposium’s talk and poster contests. Jander, along with Jian Hua of Cornell University, secured the Plant Genome Research Program grant from the National Science Foundation, which supports the college intern program. The high school internship program and the symposium are supported by donations from the Ithaca Garden Club, the Legacy Foundation of Tompkins County, and local community members Carolyn Sampson and Greg Galvin.
“I was quite impressed by how much the students were able to accomplish in only ten weeks. As in previous years, the talk and poster judges had to make some very difficult decisions to pick the best one,” said Jander.
Michelle Laterrade, a junior at Louisiana State University, won the best scientific talk award for her research in Joss Rose’s lab on the role of glycosyl hydrolases enzymes in plant cell wall formation. Cedric Clark, a sophomore at the University of Kansas received the honorable mention, while University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez junior Luis Cruz received the Judges’ Choice award.
For posters, Daniel Maldonado-Lopez, a junior at Ithaca High School, won first place for his investigation of potato responses to tuber moth infestation in the Jander laboratory. Honorable mention went to Haley Wight, a junior at Ramapo College of New Jersey and Jonathan Gomes Selman, a junior at Ithaca High School won Judges’ Choice.
“The investment by community organizations in this program is a great way to nurture the next generation of scientists working on globally-important plant research problems,” said Alan Collmer, Director of Cornell’s School of Integrated Plant Science, and a member of BTI’s Board of Directors. “It was inspiring to see all that the interns have learned and accomplished during their summer working with world-renowned researchers at BTI.”