Minnesota students go “behind-the-scenes” in Mayo Clinic’s research laboratories

March 6, 2019

By Saloni Nayar

Snow and icy road conditions could not stop more than 125 high school students from gaining hands-on experience in Mayo Clinic’s research laboratories. On Feb. 26, sophomores through seniors from nearly 25 southeast Minnesota high schools took part in the 18th biennial Celebration of Research.

Students donned lab coats and gloves and participated in tours, demonstrations and other fun activities across 30 Mayo Clinic research laboratories on Mayo’s campus in Rochester, Minn.

“We were excited to welcome students from our Minnesota communities, so they have an opportunity to learn more about career paths in research, and how research is the future of medicine,” says conference co-chair, Jim Maher, Ph.D., dean of Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Maher is the Bernard Pollack Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

The kind of ‘pong’ you hope your high schooler will play

Some of the students played “senescence pong.”  Researchers in the laboratory of Peter Amadio, M.D., Lloyd A. and Barbara A. Amundson Professor of Orthopedics, designed the game to teach the high school students about cellular senescence—how cells in the body stop repairing or die. The students had a chance to perfect their throws (with beakers instead of red Solo cups – of course), while learning about immune responses.

The teenagers also experienced demos of power tools to learn about research on muscle injuries, checked out 3-D modeling devices used to guide surgeries, and looked at cancer cells through powerful microscopes. Students also tried their hand at techniques used to understand the structure of DNA, as well as biomarkers that help to predict response to chemotherapy.

But, they also discovered that not all research takes place in a lab. The teens met with scientists in the Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery to learn about new tools for visualizing data that help to detect trends and patterns that may otherwise be unnoticed.

Planting seeds for the future

Through the day’s activities and interactions with faculty, staff and student researchers, the event organizers hoped to encourage the high schoolers to explore jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related fields.

“Mayo Clinic’s team-based research environment brings together scientists, physicians, trainees and staff to understand the underpinnings of diseases with the eventual goal of addressing unmet patient needs,” says Liewei Wang, M.D., Ph.D., conference co-chair. “We hope that getting a glimpse of this exciting and meaningful work will inspire students to pursue careers in biomedical research.”

“This is a good starter experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it,” one of the students, Tariq Quassif, said to KTTC-TV.  You can watch more of the student experiences here and here, and check out photos of the fun below.

photos of the fun below.

Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., president and CEO, Mayo Clinic, kicked-off the day and welcomed students.

Student learning to handle a pipette before loading a sample for analysis.

Student loading a sample for protein gel electrophoresis.

Mayo researchers and students discussing DNA structure ahead of experiments.

Students learned about new data visualization tools. Here is an example used to identify differences in cardiovascular drugs, which may not have been noticed via traditional statistical graphing.

Student researchers shared insights from their career journeys during the lunchtime activities.

More information
Learn more about the Mayo Clinic Celebration of Research by visiting the event website. Mayo Clinic also supports the Rochester Area Math/Science Partnership and the Integrated Science Education Outreach program. Mayo Clinic’s Career Awareness website offers other opportunities to learn more about research and health care careers.

This post originally appeared on Mayo Clinic’s Advancing the Science blog.