More than 21 high school students from 13-area high schools put on their lab coats last summer during an internship at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, gaining first-hand experience with scientists working on cutting-edge environmental research.

Jared Naimark, a senior at Desert Vista High School, was from one of the 21 high school students selected to work side-by-side with seasoned researchers at ASU’s premier research facility.

“I started off doing lab procedures (in the internship), and kind of learned as I went. So, it was overwhelming at first, but that was the best way to get things done,” Naimark said.

The high school outreach program is designed to give future scientists early hands-on experience in advanced health care research, said Julie Kurth,  community relations manager at the Biodesign Institute.

Equipped with cutting-edge technology, the ASU Biodesign Institute is a 350,000-square-foot facility on the campus of ASU and is the “largest single investment in research infrastructure” in the state. Nearly 600 faculty, staff and students work there.

“This program gives high school students opportunity to work on actual scientific research projects in a laboratory environment,” she said.

The Biodesign Institute has 11 centers ranging from “bioenergetics” to “environmental biotechnology” and, according to Kurth, interns worked on projects in many of them.

Naimark worked under Dr. Weimin Gao and Dr. Joseph Chao, in the Center for EcoGenomics, on deep-sea bacteria collected on a scientific cruise off of the Northwest coast of the U.S, he said. One of the main aspects of the project, Naimark said, was discovering a more efficient way to culture the bacteria in order to make it easier to study.

The project Naimark was working on, Chao said, may one day be useful “to design new drugs, to develop biomedical compounds, and even to improve bio-fuel production processes.”

“There’s not much known about these deep-sea marine bacteria, so basically it was the first step in figuring out how to culture these bacteria in order to study them in the lab,” Naimark said.

The culmination of his research included a time-lapse movie of the bacteria being cultured.

Naimark said the internship was overwhelming at first.

“They’re not used to having someone in the lab with less experience, although there are undergraduate college students working,” he said. “I had to ask them to slow down a little bit, especially with procedures and equipment.”

Kurth said the Biodesign Institute provides researchers with “sophisticated instruments” Naimark, and other interns, were able to use during their time in the lab.

“There’s some really amazing stuff going on there,” Naimark said. “Even someone else in my lab was working on ‘optical tweezers,’ which is actually a laser that can pick up cells.”

Naimark’s 20 hours per week experience (for six weeks) allowed him to discover the rewarding research conducted by staff at the ASU Biodesign Institute.

“They’re really focused on applications of science, so everything they do is really going to benefit society in some way,” he said. “There’s just an amazing group of people there; everyone works together.”

“ASU has been very successful at building untraditional organizations (like Biodesign) to make impacts in science and technology,” Chao said, who started at the Biodesign Institute in 2007.

Chao said Jared, along with the other interns, were “enthusiastic” about working on laboratory experiments.

“Jared is an intelligent, hardworking, fast learning student,” he said. “It has been fun to work with him.”

For many participating students, increasing the quality of life for people worldwide has motivated them to pursue scientific studies.

“I think mainly right now I am more interested in genetics and how it can help people,” Naimark said.

Though the project is in the early stages, Chao said further research will continue in the field.

“Jared’s work certainly has the potential for publication,” Chao said.

Both Chao and Gao said they look forward to working with more high school students in the future, though the program is dealing with budget issues.

“Unfortunately, this program is at risk due to the economic downturn,” Kurth said. “We are pursuing government grants and philanthropic sources and hope to be able to secure these resources in time for next summer’s program.”

Naimark is applying early to Stanford University, where he hopes to pursue his scientific interest.


Mark Crudup is interning this semester at AFN. He attends ASU.


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