The Training Page

From the Fellows Committee

Volunteering at the Children’s Inn

Imagine having to teach a science class to a group of children—between the ages of five and 18—with no idea how many you will be speaking to, what their background is, or whether they even speak English. Recently, two NINDS fellows did just that and discovered the experience to be rewarding and even fun.

Katherine Bricceno and Kelly Shaffer volunteered for Explore-Inn to teach science at NIH’s Children’s Inn, a family-centered residence for pediatric outpatients on the Bethesda campus. Coming up with a project was the first hurdle.

“I wanted to find something visual and active,” explained Bricceno, a graduate student working on a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular genetics. She stumbled upon an activity using red cabbage juice as an acid-base indicator. When mixed with an acidic solution such as vinegar, the juice turns reddish; when mixed with basic solutions such as ammonia it turns blue-green. Over the winter holidays, she tested the experiment at home and won over her mother, who was worried about the unavoidable mess. “I figured if I could get my family excited, this would work for kids too,” said Bricceno.

The classes are optional, so teachers don’t know in advance who will be attending. The one thing they could count on was a mess, however. “We thought we were going to be working with lots of little children,” said Bricceno. “There was going to be liquid everywhere.”

Turnout was small so Bricceno and Shaffer had plenty of one-on-one time with the children. Teachers and students had a blast. “By the end of the hour, one boy was just mixing liquids together to see the colors,” said Shaffer, a medical school graduate who is working on a Ph.D. in neuroscience. “If he had been left alone he would have created a volcano.”

The experience caused Shaffer to reflect on how her best teachers tailored their approaches to the abilities of students. “I need to explain things on the other person’s level and then be able to bring them to my level,” she said.

Bricceno agreed. “My own work is so detailed and specific. How can I make it interesting for someone else?” she said. “I think it is about making the science accessible [and] engaging so it is interesting.”

And for the children? “They don’t have to think about [being] sick,” said Shaffer. “They are just normal kids, doing normal things.”


From the Office of Intramural Training and Education

Postbac Posters Wow the Crowds

More than 300 postbaccalaureate students showed off their research posters in May. Here’s a sampling:

  • NCI postbac Dena Tran established the importance of mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) in waging a healthy immune response and uncovered the mechanism of action of the immunosuppressant drug rapamycin. Genetically engineered mice that expressed only half of the normal level of mTOR had small spleens, fewer B cells, and decreased antibody production.

  • Hannah Bergman’s project merged her interests in psychology and the military. She worked with researchers in NCI’s Cancer Control and Population Sciences Division to investigate smokeless tobacco use in the military and demonstrated the need for more studies to identify risk factors. She co-authored a paper that was submitted to the Journal of Tobacco and Nicotine Research.

  • Peter O’Halloran, in NICHD, hopes to find drugs that will combat the neurological symptoms of a cholesterol-synthesis disease called Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome (SLOS). He will help test FDA-approved drugs to see whether they can restore cholesterol synthesis in affected neurons. He is thrilled to have helped create SLOS neurons—from patient skin biopsies—that will be useful for drug screening.

  • Inspired by the 2010 NCI Symposium on Chromosome Biology, NCI postbac Nikosi Adejola studied chromosome territory organization in mouse tissue. By collaborating with researchers in his and another lab, he learned how to perform fluorescent in situ hybridization on mouse mesenteric tissue. Preliminary data suggest that specific mouse chromosomes cluster in close proximity to each other.

  • Camille Kemble, a first-year postbac working in NHLBI, relied on her electrical engineering background to improve X-ray imaging so it can be used on soft tissue as well as bones. She is the first author on a paper that appeared in Optics Express and hopes to publish a second paper soon.

A list of selected posters can be found on the OITE Web site.