Lowell High School Symposium Wraps Up Summer of Lab Research

Graduate Division

Like many UCSF researchers, Grace Zhang had a productive summer in lab. She tested the activity of 12 novel 3-inch untranslated regions (UTR) elements, observed how mutating these elements affected RNA stability and was now presenting her work in Byers Auditorium.

Unlike the typical UCSF researcher, however, Zhang has yet to graduate from high school.

During the afternoon of August 29, Zhang and 12 fellow high school students gave oral presentations and a poster session in Genentech Hall in the third annual Symposium of the UCSF Medical Science Trading Program-Lowell Science Research Program, which was the culmination of a summer of full-time work in various UCSF (and in one case National Institutes of Health) labs. The students all attend Lowell High School, a San Francisco public magnet school.

The Lowell Science Research Program is designed “to give talented high school students the chance to do really high-quality science,” said Julia Ye, co-founder of the program, a current UCSF MSTP student and Lowell alumna. “It gives them a chance to explore what doing real science research means.” 

For Ilya Verzhbinsky, who worked on computer modeling of a heart failure therapy device, “it was interesting to see how the wet lab and dry lab mesh together.” He added that his research experience has reinforced his interest in majoring in science, perhaps chemical biology or molecular biology.

Robyn Wong, a student research assistant who has mentored Mimi Lu for the past two summers, said, “It really surprised me how excited they were to learn.” She was impressed by Lu’s acumen, explaining that they would plan experiments together; then “she’d run with it. … She’d come back and have results.”

The program was founded in 2010 by Ye and Lowell AP physics teacher Richard Shapiro. Several dozen students participate in school-year activities, with summer internships decided by a competitive application process.

During the school year, students meet after school twice each week. They hear scientific presentations from graduate student mentors (including this reporter), conduct experiments, such as digestion and gel electrophoresis of a plasmid, and learn to read and present scientific literature.

In introductory remarks, MSTP Director Mark Anderson said, “The goal is to light the fire, to convey to you the excitement of scientific discovery."

It seems to be working. Srinand Paruthiyil said in concluding his presentation, “This has been really awesome. I’ve learned so much about bioinformatics. It’s like the coolest thing ever.”