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Freshmen Ben Allen Experiences Cutting – Edge Science at MIT

Freshmen Ben Allen had the opportunity to be a part of a science program held at the MIT Whitehead Institute over April break. Ben was one of five students chosen by science teacher Bonnie Walker based on his deep love for all things science. While at MIT, Ben had the chance to dissect a flatworm, tour local biotechnology laboratories and listen to lectures from leading scientific experts.

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Ben is interested in pursuing science as he ages.

“Every high school can send five students to this amazing free program,” Bonnie said. “I chose Ben because he is very science based and a great kid. I knew he would benefit from the experience.” The experience, which ran from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, was to be fully immersed in cutting- edge science. All of the professors were post doctorate level and there to help the students learn as much as possible.

“We attended lectures on everything from medicine to sustainability and agriculture,” Ben said. “Personally, I am interested in finding and developing ways to make the land more profitable.” He went on to explain that the students also had the opportunity to work in a lab with flatworms. Having never dissected anything, Ben was excited about this opportunity. “When you cut a flatworm, it regenerates over a period of one to two weeks,” Ben said. “This is a great way to learn about regenerating stem cells in humans. Also, I had never used a micro blade before so that was cool.”

Ben and his fellow students also had the chance to tour a company that was focused on the study of RNA. RNA is a ribonucleic acid, a nucleic acid present in all living cells. Its principal role is to act as a messenger carrying instructions from DNA for controlling the synthesis of proteins, although in some viruses RNA rather than DNA carries the genetic information. Touring this lab gave Ben a chance to understand how medicine is on the verge of a breakthrough. “All of this research that we learned about could change the world as we know it,” Ben said. “It could be the beginning of a big medical breakthrough.” That having been said, Ben explained that most medications can take up to 15 years in the lab before being approved for human consumption.  Ben was most amazed to realize what it takes to get medicine to the shelves of a pharmacy. “It takes years of work, and I just go grab it for a few dollars,” he said incredulously.

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Ben had the opportunity to experience cutting-edge technology at MIT.

The occasion to be immersed in the science field reinforced Ben’s love of science and helped to solidify his desire to pursue it further. “There was so much interesting stuff,” Ben said. “I enjoyed seeing the excitement. I could tell these people enjoyed what they did, and were happy to share information. My peers were great, too. Many of them know what they want to do, and why they want to do it. It was also interesting to see the focus. It was kind of inspiring.”

MIT’s Whitehead Institute offers this program every April to aspiring young high school scientists. To learn more about the program click here.