High school students get a jump on research at the U of L

Six local high school students have been learning their way around University of Lethbridge research labs this summer through the Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program.

Sally Xu uses a pipette in Dr. Ute Kothe's lab as part of her work in the HYRS program.

The HYRS program gives high school students who are entering Grade 12 an intensive six-week experience conducting scientific research in a university lab. Along with the U of L, the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary participate in the program.

For Sally Xu, who will be entering her senior year at Winston Churchill High School this fall, the HYRS program came highly recommended by her older sister.

“I really like biology and chemistry and I thought it would be a great learning experience,” she says.

Xu has been working on a project that involves an enzyme called TrmA.

“It is seen in breast cancer and in future applications we want to see if there’s any effect of the TrmA enzyme in breast cancer and if we can find any connections,” says Xu.

“The HYRS program is really fabulous because it’s not only a research experience, the program really provides a lot of resources behind the scenes,” says Dr. Ute Kothe, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “They get the research experience from us but they also get overall science experience and see the facilities, talk to researchers and get career advice. From my perspective it’s just wonderful to have these young students in the lab because it really shows you that motivation is everything.”

The students also become ambassadors for the program and help demystify the work that’s being done in research labs.

The HYRS program gave Tiffany Dang, another student entering Grade 12 at Winston Churchill High School, the chance to get back into the lab after being part of the Lethbridge high school iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) team.

“I love the HYRS program because it allows me to get such great lab experience and I’m with a wonderful group of people. It’s just a great environment to be in,” says Dang.

Dang explains her project in this video, Sixty Second Science, by Alberta Innovates Health Solutions.

She’s working in Dr. Hans-Joachim Wieden’s lab in the chemistry and biochemistry department. Her project involves testing a group of enzymes called GTPases. These enzymes regulate many cell processes and Dang wants to see how they affect cell fitness in stress conditions.

“We have participated in HYRS for at least five years. It’s a great opportunity to get lab experience in a real lab setting,” says Wieden. “We have had students significantly contributing to the research activity.”

Another four HYRS students are getting experience in neuroscience labs. Emily Milder (Catholic Central High School) is working in Dr. Ian Whishaw’s lab, Shannon Healy (Lethbridge Collegiate Institute) is working in Dr. Robert Sutherland’s lab, Lindsay Amatto (Catholic Central High School) is working in Dr. Robbin Gibb’s lab and Nathaniel Bly (Lethbridge Collegiate Institute) is getting experience in Dr. Bryan Kolb’s lab.

The students will be illustrating their work over the summer at an open house and poster presentation on Friday, Aug. 15 at 1 p.m. in Markin Hall.

The HYRS program is funded by Alberta Innovates Health Solutions, with additional funding from the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Students must have at least an 85 per cent average in biology 20 and mathematics 20, and 85 per cent in one additional science. Of the 211 students who applied, 50 were selected to participate. In addition to hands-on research in the lab, the students attend guest lectures and professional development sessions as part of the HYRS program.