From Scripps: “Hands-On Research 101: Internships Introduce Undergrads to Biomedical Science in Action”
August 24, 2015
SURF Intern Joshua David says the internship at TSRI gave him new opportunities to learn about biomedicine. (Photo by Cindy Bruaer.)
When Joshua David saw scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) discussing Ebola virus research on the news last year, he wanted to help.
“I discovered that Scripps is one of the top places looking at Ebola virus at the molecular level,” said David, an undergraduate chemistry major at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The scientists at Scripps are trying to help people who are suffering and dying right now.”
David quickly got in touch with Ebola researchers at TSRI and learned about the institute’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) Program, organized by the TSRI Office of Graduate Studies. The SURF Program is a 10-week internship program at TSRI that has brought 38 undergraduates to TSRI’s California and Florida campuses this year. It’s one of several outreach programs, including a summer high school internship program where another 30 students work side-by-side with researchers.
As a SURF intern, David flew into San Diego in June and spent his summer in Associate Professor Andrew Ward’s lab.
Learning New Techniques
David said the internship gave him new opportunities to learn about biomedicine.
“I’m very interested in structural biology and virology; however, these courses are not offered at my university,” David explained. “Coming here is a great opportunity because it allows me learn techniques used in these fields and gain general knowledge of each field in the process.”
Under the guidance of C. Daniel Murin, a graduate student in the Ward lab, David learned how to build 3-D structures of proteins involved in Ebola virus attacks. The SURF program emphasizes hands-on research, so David learned to use a technique called electron microscopy (EM) to study exactly how Ebola virus interacts with antibodies.
“I wanted to take him through that process, so he can go through it almost independently by the end of the summer,” said Murin.
David worked with Murin on several projects, including studies involving the experimental Ebola virus treatment ZMapp, which has also been the topic of previous studies at TSRI.
David said one challenge this summer was tackling how to use a molecular imaging program necessary for research with EM.
“Then I just had to sit down and figure it out,” he said. “It took me about eight hours, but now I understand how to do it.”
David hopes to bring together research and patient care in a future career as a physician-scientist. As a high school student, David interned in a hospital’s intensive care unit. He watched as patients succumbed to diseases like acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)—where doctors have few treatments to offer.
A technique like EM could give David and other scientists a better look at the proteins involved in disease—from Ebola to ARDS—and lead to new treatments.
“You can understand how things work in cells at the atomic level, and that really interests me,” said David.
Before David headed back to Virginia at the end of the summer, he presented a poster outlining his work to peers and supervisors at TSRI. It was chance to show what he’s learned—and why he wants to be part of the next generation of scientists.
About the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) Program
TSRI’s 10-week SURF program provides participants the opportunity to perform cutting-edge research in one of 250 laboratories side-by-side with TSRI’s world-renowned faculty. The goals of the program are to:
Make program participants feel comfortable in a lab setting and increase their research skills
Teach participants to think critically about the theory and application of biomedical research
Increase the participants’ proficiency in communicating scientific concepts
Increase the number of underrepresented and first-generation to college students who consider careers in biomedical research.
Students can choose to apply to either the La Jolla campus in California or the Jupiter campus in Florida. Learn more at TSRI’s Education website.
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The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), one of the world’s largest, private, non-profit research organizations, stands at the forefront of basic biomedical science, a vital segment of medical research that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of life. Over the last decades, the institute has established a lengthy track record of major contributions to the betterment of health and the human condition.
The institute — which is located on campuses in La Jolla, California, and Jupiter, Florida — has become internationally recognized for its research into immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, virology, and synthetic vaccine development. Particularly significant is the institute’s study of the basic structure and design of biological molecules; in this arena TSRI is among a handful of the world’s leading centers.
The institute’s educational programs are also first rate. TSRI’s Graduate Program is consistently ranked among the best in the nation in its fields of biology and chemistry.