High School Student Contributes to Science Journal
Tuesday, Jul. 12, 2011
While taking a career class at Logan High School, Ashley Williamson found that she was interested in both law and biology. She decided to do an internship at Utah State University to see if she liked working in a real laboratory.
She came to USU’s Center for Integrated BioSystems to work with researchers Jacob Parnell and Giovanni Rompato. Williamson became involved with a project that studied how bacteria from the Great Salt Lake acclimate to the salt stress.
The study is timely because one of the effects of climate change will be that many environments will have greater fluctuation in salt concentrations. Williamson used a cutting-edge approach that looked at how proteins in a cell respond to changes in salt.
For three months, Williamson came to the lab nearly every day to work. Her task was to extract and grow bacteria unique to the Great Salt Lake, and her diligence paid off. The work that she did at USU resulted in a published article. Her name appeared on the article, along with six research scientists from across the country.
“Ashley gained essential hands-on laboratory experience,” Parnell said. “Her contribution helped take this project from the laboratory to the scientific community by participating in the publication of her results.”
The article was published June 29 in Nature Scientific Reports. The research showed that the model bacteria stopped growing to try to get away from high salt concentrations, and then shifted its metabolism to help cope with the stressful environment. This research will lead to further studies on how these and other microorganisms, the drivers of Earth’s biogeochemical cycles, respond to changes in salt.
“I gained an understanding and appreciation for science and scientists,” Williamson said. “While it can be frustrating, it is worth it when you actually figure something out.”
Her lab time at USU contributed to her decision to major in biology at Westminster College where she has just completed her first year. She plans to graduate in 2014 and continue pursuing law and biology. Combining her interests, she hopes to eventually become a science advisor to Congress.
“The scientific world has become increasingly competitive,” said Afifa Sabir, education coordinator/program director for the Center for Integrated BioSystems. “Early exposure to real, substantive research opportunities, such as the one Ashley sought, has tremendous value.”
In addition to internships, USU’s Center for Integrated BioSystems offers a Biotech Summer Academy for high school juniors and seniors. This five-day program takes place in mid-July on the Logan campus and exposes students to current research in faculty labs. Those interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435-797-3504 to be put on a waiting list for next year’s academy.
Writer: Jeannine Huenemann, (435) 797-8274, email@example.com