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JHU Center for Talented Youth Hosts Day-Long Biotechnology and Bioengineering Program at JHU MCC

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More than 200 teens, their parents, and local scientists and educators converged on the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus on a recent Saturday for a one-day Biotechnology and Bioengineering program that was part of the JHU Center for Talented Youth Family Academic Programs series.  Co-sponsored by the JHU Center for Biotechnology Education, the event drew local participants from Maryland, DC, and Virginia as well as families from as far away as New York, Georgia and Arizona.

The morning began with a keynote presentation from Frank Maldarelli, MD, PhD, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who spoke about “HIV: Origin, Spread, and Emergence of Drug Resistance.” 

Maldarelli, whose team studies viruses that affect mammals, gave an entertaining presentation that not only informed, but also kept the audience entertained thanks to numerous stories, like the one about scientists inspecting chimpanzee excrement — a task that he joked fell to graduate students. He also drew in the audience by comparing his job to well-known board games.

“My job is a lot like a chess game,” Maldarelli explained, “I make a move. The virus makes a move. I make a move. The virus makes a move. Except it’s not really a level playing field like that.

“The game I play is really more like a game of Battleship where the opponent already has some information,” he said. “It’s like the virus can see where I’m placing my ships by the reflection in my glasses.”

After talking about HIV’s origins and the geographic spread of the disease, Maldarelli gave a mini science lesson where he talked about how the disease spreads in the body and attempts to create drugs that would stop its destructive path.

Maldarelli closed his presentation by talking about his work at NIH.

“The NIH is an unusual place and you are unusual people and our paths may cross again,” he said. “Consider it. It’s an opportunity to study things in their native soil.” cty-april-2010-event-grad-student-with-hs-stud.jpg

After listening to the keynote, students broke out into smaller groups to participate in hands-on workshops that included: Laboratory Methods for Virus Research, a tour of the Functional Genomics Resource Center at the J. Craig Venter Institute, and Bioinformatics Tools for Virus Investigation.

“I had a lot of fun working in a lab and learning about RNA, DNA and Restruction Enzymes,” said Fernando Aquilar, a Montgomery County student from Loiederman Middle School. “It was a great experience.”

Other participants echoed Aquilar’s sentiments.

“I liked being able to perform authentic labs,” said Loiederman student Jazmin Marquez.

“I especially liked the hands-on sessions on cell transferring and the computer session,” said a student participant from Seneca Valley High School.

While students attended the three workshops, parents followed their own track of programming and engaged in conversations about pathways to college admissions and science-based career opportunities as well as received a presentation on “Pharmaceutical Frauds: What’s in your Medicine Cabinet?” by JHU alumnus Peter Gabriele, Technical Director, ARmark Authentication Technologies, LLC.

When asked about her student’s experience, Montgomery County Public School teacher Beth Schmetz said she thinks it helped students more clearly see what they need to do while in school if they want to pursue a science career.

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Johns Hopkins Bioinformatics Professor Bob Lessick works with a student in the Computer Lab.

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CATEGORY: K-12 Outreach