Nine US students are accepted into the 2019-2020 ASPIRE program

Congratulations to nine students who have been accepted into the 2019-2020 Advanced Science Program for Independent Research and Engineering (ASPIRE) program, which is supported by the Advanced Mathematics and Science Study Program fund. This year's group includes Harry Amadeo '20 (second year in the program), Jacob Boyar '21, Ryan Heaton '21, Sam Hillenmeyer '21, Nadia Kucher '21, Alex Lim '21, Wafa Nomani '21, Olivia Sheridan '20, and Joseph Winterlich '21.

Nadia and Olivia are both studying the long-term effects of certain things. Nadia is studying the effects of stroke to see if there are better rehabilitation regimens that might be better for certain patients and Olivia is investigating the effects of CRISPR gene editing and trying to see if edited genomes are more susceptible to developing cancer later.

Nadia Kucher: Nadia is very excited to have been given this opportunity to work in a R-01 lab and participate in national science fair competitions. Each year, a small group of students who clearly demonstrate an ability and interest in achieving true excellence within science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics are selected for independent study and competition preparation, and/or a laboratory research experience, based on the rigorous standards of ASPIRE. Nadia is working with Dr. Yutaka Yoshida, Ph.D., a lead researcher and laboratory head at Burke Neurological Institute in White Plains, NY, an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College. Working alongside Dr. Mark Basista, Ph.D., Nadia's research focuses on how movement patterns change after corticospinal neurons are ablated. This work will help streamline the rehabilitation process after a stroke or other types of traumatic brain injury.

Over the summer, Nadia spent 10 weeks working 40 hours per week in the lab and is planning to continue her research throughout the year. She spent the first half of the summer learning how to conduct research and use the equipment. Then, she worked on her project independently. Nadia comments, "I was surprised that I enjoyed the environment of the lab as much as I did. My mentors were so supportive and helped me learn so much throughout the summer. I am so happy that I have been given the opportunity to help people on a larger scale."

Towards the end of the summer, Nadia spent time analyzing her data and developing plans to continue her research throughout the school year. Nadia remarks, "This experience has allowed me to apply my passion for biology to a real-life problem. I did not realize that I would consider pursuing research in my future, and the ASPIRE program has given me the opportunity to explore my interests outside the classroom." During the school year, Nadia plans to present her work at the Connecticut STEM Fair (CT-STEM), the Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair (CSEF), the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), and more. Nadia remarks, "I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to be able to present my research to prestigious judges because it is important to communicate your research to others."

Nadia finished Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus AB, AP Chemistry, AP Computer Science A last year as a sophomore. This year she is taking AP Biology, AP Calculus BC, and AP English Language. She is the president of the Girls Advancing in STEM (GAINS) Club, and she has also attended the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY) for three years, studying anatomy and physiology, biology, and neuroscience. Outside the classroom, she competes on the Varsity Volleyball team at King where they won the FAA and NEPSAC championships for the 2018 season.

In the future, Nadia hopes to become a medical doctor, focusing on neuroscience. She hopes to go to a top-tier school and plans to attend graduate school for medicine and research.

Olivia Sheridan: Olivia is thrilled to have been given this opportunity. This program includes an off-campus internship at an R01-level research laboratory and the accompanying Advanced STEM Research Course on the fundamentals of scientific research, specifically highlighting how to present research in a variety of written and oral formats.

Olivia was selected for the program following a rigorous application and evaluation process. Contributing to her passion for research were her two second-place finishes in the 9th and 10th grade categories at the 2017 and 2018 King School Science Fairs, respectively. She has been a King Scholar since 9th grade and was recently selected for induction into the prestigious Cum Laude Society.

Olivia is working with Dr. Megan King, Ph.D. (no relation to King School) and graduate student/Ph.D. candidate Amanda Vines at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, CT. Working alongside graduate students in the King Cellular Biology & Molecular Genetics Lab, Olivia's work investigates how CRISPR gene editing relates to DNA damage and repair in fission yeast cells. Specifically, her project involves using CRISPR to purposely mutate fission yeast DNA and subsequently determining if the normal DNA repair pathway cells use is impaired. Her project provides novel insight into the impact of gene editing on eukaryotic genomes, as her work suggests that CRISPR-edited genomes may not be able to repair DNA accurately, which, if left un-repaired, could lead to uncontrolled cell growth and cancer.

Olivia spent 40 hours per week for nine weeks last summer in the King Lab. Olivia comments, "As I worked independently and analyzed the results of my data, I began to make connections between concepts, and brainstorm new applications of my data. Physically using CRISPR allowed me to understand the science behind it on a level that I never would have achieved through reading or in-class lectures. This course has pushed me to connect data from my own research to current events, including considering the ethical issues that have arisen as there is a push to apply CRISPR editing to human cell lines."

Regarding Olivia's work over the summer, Dr. King of Yale University comments, "While this [CRISPR gene editing] approach was initially developed by other groups, undergraduate and graduate students in my lab had been unsuccessful at editing the [yeast] genome prior to Olivia joining our team. Olivia took on this challenge. To be honest, we had no expectation that Olivia would be able to make sufficient progress over the summer to actually acquire data of this kind. I can honestly say that the team members were generally floored by Olivia's capabilities and accomplishments over the summer. When she gave her end-of-summer research talk to our group, I, like many other team members, was frankly stunned. In recognition of her contributions to this project, I fully expect that Olivia will be a co-author on the manuscript that [my graduate students] and I are preparing to submit for publication in the coming months. This is a truly unexpected and unusual outcome, but richly deserved. Given this, we also strongly support her application to both the Regeneron Science Talent Search and the Connecticut State STEM Fair."

Olivia finished Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry, AP Physics 1, AP Computer Science Principles, and Precalculus AB over the past two years, and she is currently taking AP Calculus AB, AP Biology, AP Psychology, AP Literature, and Honors Environmental Science. Olivia also rows competitively year-round and has gone on to compete at the regional level.

In the future, Olivia wants to pursue biology and chemistry. She has applied to some of the top 25 colleges in the country and plans to attend graduate school for research or medicine, plans that have been solidified by her experience in the laboratory this summer.

The King Fund supports STEM opportunities like these! Please give generously to support these and other distinctive offerings for students at King. The ASPIRE program is also supported, in partnership with the King Fund, by the Advanced Mathematics and Science Study Program (AMSSP) Endowed Fund. Established in 2018 by Margharet, Frank, Bea '15 and William '17 Nash, the AMSSP Fund supports select students with demonstrated ability and interest in achieving true excellence within science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics in global competition preparation, and/or laboratory research experiences.

Congratulations to the entire group and stay tuned for news on Harry, Jacob, Ryan, Sam, Alex, Wafa, and Joseph.