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Published: Wednesday, 7/20/2005

Teens discover opportunity in labs

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Alisha Jones labels petri dishes inside a lab at the University of Toledo, where she is working this summer. Alisha Jones labels petri dishes inside a lab at the University of Toledo, where she is working this summer.
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Sierra Hill initially felt paralyzed with fear at the first sight of a periodic table and its sometimes daunting elements.

Dif-fi-cult, was the word she slowly uttered, intentionally stressing each syllable, when asked to recall her first impression of high school chemistry class.

But the subject eventually started to click for Miss Hill a confidence that s grown as she s worked this summer inside a chemistry lab at the University of Toledo, alongside older graduate assistants, undergraduate students, and professors.

While her teenaged peers are out working other summer jobs, at places like local pools and parks, this 16-year-old s been spending part of her days mixing up chemical buffers, solutions, and luria broth the medium used for growing bacteria in petri dishes. She s also involved in a variety of research projects and has taken to observing and just talking daily with chemists in the field.

This is my first summer job, but it doesn t feel like a job. It feels like school, and I like school, Miss Hill said in an excited tone. I like hands-on experience in the lab.

Miss Hill, a senior at Woodward High School who will take Chemistry II there in the fall, also will receive a total of $2,275 for her eight, 40-hour weeks of chemistry research work at UT this summer.

The program is partially funded through the American Chemical Society, with the rest paid through the university s chemistry department via individual grants to professors as well as contributions from a variety of area organizations.

UT is one of three universities in Ohio University of Cincinnati and Youngstown State University are the others participating in the near 40-year national program known as Project Seed. It s geared at exposing economically disadvantaged high school youths to careers in chemical sciences. Participants can qualify based on set guidelines pertaining to the amount of their family s combined income.

A spokesman for the American Chemical Society in Washington said it supports more than 75 colleges and universities annually in the project, which started in 1968. College scholarships also are available for participants.

UT first got involved last summer and had funding in place then for four participants. This year, the number has increased to seven, with two of those students from last year continuing on with their work this year.

Those students, who include Hua Nguyen and Monty Simon, are paid a higher $2,600 for the summer job.

Andrew Jorgensen, an associate chemistry professor who directs the project at UT, said each high school student is paired directly with a researcher and the student is expected to perform real tasks in the labs.

Each will write a final report and give an oral presentation about the summer research, he said.

Ron Viola, a chemistry professor at UT, said the experience is invaluable for the younger students, most of whom are struggling with decisions about future careers. They are immersed into laboratory work, which in his case includes the study of genes and enzymes.

We integrate them into the lab to see if that s what they really want. If they don t get caught up into the research right away, it s probably not for them, he said.

Alisha Jones, 17, said she was skeptical at first about working in a chemical lab.

When I first came here, I wasn t sure if I d be interested in what they do, the Bowsher High School senior admitted.

Now, her future plans include majoring in chemistry with a set goal of attending Cornell University. She s also been dubbed the PCR machine by those inside Mr. Viola s lab. They ve told her she s been the lucky charm to making those PCR s or polymerase chain reactions happen in the laboratory.

She s been kept busy by research work and writing daily in her laboratory notebook. Miss Jones said the work s unlike jobs she s had before at fast food and retail chains.

This is like the best job I ve ever had, she said. I haven t been bored one day.

Contact Kim Bates at:

kimbates@theblade.com

or 419-724-6074.



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