A group of area high school science students are leaving behind their textbooks and taking up test tubes at seven District and Maryland research institutes under the Katharine Dulin Folger summer scholarship program.
The students were nominated by high school science teachers and reviewed by a board appointed by the Cancer Society. On the basis of results on a nationally standarized science test 20 students were selected to work with scientists at government and private agencies on recently developed and continuing research projects.
Before coming to Walter Reed Martha West said she'd never heard of a micro-puncture pippete, much less ground one down. But within a few weeks the Immaculata Prep high school student was turning out the small hollow glass needles with the ease of a pro.
West has been working with Dr. Robert Vigersky, Army staff endocrinologist, researching the cause and controls affecting sperm reduction in normal and diseased testicles.
"Some hormones are important and we're trying to measure them right where they're made in these little tubulars," said West, peering through a microscope at the organs of a rat. She quickly, but carefully, ran through the process of making the pipette which are used to puncture the testes.
"This is a very unusual technique," said Vigersky, coaxing her along. "There are only a handful of people in the whole country who have been exposed to it and know how to do it. She's very good at it. She's a future world champion micro puncture pipette maker," he laughed.
West accepted the praise with a grin. The 17-year-old senior said her ultimate goal is to become an astronaut.
Over in the surgical division of the hospital, Tommy Doong, 16, is working with Dr. John Harmon researching the stress factors leading to gastric ulcers in dogs. Stress ulcers are often a problem for the severely ill and a particular problem for injured soldiers, explained Harmon.
"Other than in a frog's stomach no one has ever sorted out the varying effects of bile salts (on the stomach)," he continued. "Tommy's found some are not damaging at all. The extent of damage depends on which bile salts are present and what acidity they're in." Harmon said the intern has performed his duties with a competence equal to that of the medical students working on the project.
Doong said his job has been to add bile salts to the acid solution in the stomach to see at what stress level it begins to break down the stomach's lining. A junior at Coolidge High School, Doong said he eventually plans to study electrical engineering.
Shelia Hamilton is the Society's third student intern at Walter Reed. Hamilton has been working with Capt. J. Richard Jennings in the department of neuropsychiatry.
"Basically we're looking at the responses of the nervous system that we know are related to stress responses concerning attention and memory," said Jennings. "We're trying to understand the psychological and physiological processes that go on under stress."
Jennings said Hamilton has been an asset to the project through her work with the computers.
"I take EKG's collect data and write the computer programs," explained Hamilton. "I didn't expect to be working with computers but since I had had a data processing I was able to write tapes to advantage the program.
"The experience has been very beneficial to me because of my plans to enter computer programming in the future. I've also had a lot of fun."
hamilton, 16, is a junior at Ballou High School where she's been studying computer programming through a mass science program.
After her summer internship is over Ann Williamson may never do another hemoglobin assay. But for now the process is vital to her research in the experimental medicine department at Bethesda Naval Research Institute.
Williamson has been working with a team studying the factors affecting the rate blood absorbs and releases oxygen to tissue. Her job, she said, is to operate a specially built machine called a hem-o-scan which measures the amount of oxygen in the blood.
"I wasn't planning to do this," she admitted, "but they needed someone to run the machine and it was the only thing going on in the lab I could understand. "However, other researchers credit the student from National Cathedral School for Girls with having acquired admirable skill in a short period of time
"She's a very energetic and capable trainee," said Paul Mui, a researcher familiar with project.
Williamson said she eventually plans to study medicine.
Paul Yao, 16, has been working at the Naval Institute. He has assisted Dr. Martin Burk of the clinical immunology department in a project closely related to cancer research, he said.
"There is a theory that tumors are developed by the body but they're insignificant because the body provides immunities for them," explained Yao. "The research team is trying to find out why some tumors can be dealt with and others can't." Yao, a senior at St. Anselm's Abbey School, said his science interests were indirectly influenced by his father, a geneticist at HEW's Bureau of Radiological Health.
Ken Smith said his work at Bethesda is right in his field.
"I help doctors and technicians prepare animals for research projects," said Smith, who wants to be a veterinarian. "This is just what I was looking for. I worked in stables during summers, but nothing like this. I'm actually working in the surgery assisting the surgeon."
Capt. Charles Burgoon, deputy director of the research division, describes the 16-year-old as "a very capable student. We don't feel like we have to stand and watch him to see if he's doing right," said Burgoon. "He's even been working with primates. Most college students don't get to work with them."
Smith's job, said Burgoon, is to assist in caring for the animals and participating in gland removal techniques.
The eight-week summer internships are directed by the American Cancer Society District of Columbia Division and funded with a Folger Foundation grant, which also provides each student with $200 for expenses. The division's public education program, chaired by Robert Conn, has provided basic lab and research experience for public, parochial and private District high school students since 1963.
This summer's other interns are: Carol Watkins of Coolidge High School, Tracey Revis of Georgetown Day School, and Benjamin Kornegay of McKinley High School at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology; Rodney Ferguson of St. Anthony's High School and Richard Camby of Gonzaga High School at George Washington University Medical School; Leslie Knoop of Georgetown Day School at National Zoological Park; Conrad Pseng of St. Anselm's Abbey School, Robert Waldmann of Georgetown Day School, Janice Stanton of Immaculata Preparatory High School, and Andrei Cernea of Georgetown Day School at the National Cancer Institute; and Margaret Daugherty of Immaculata Preparatory High School, Eveline Ferretti of Georgetown Visitation School, and Peter Ford III of Gonzaga High School at Georgetown University Medical School.