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Become one of NASA’s Next Generation of Scientists

GeneLab for High School logo: computer, satellite and dna illustrations surrounding a sphere

Ask any scientist or researcher when they first became interested in their profession, and many will say it was while they were in high school. NASA is capitalizing on this by growing the nation’s next generation of scientists while they are rising juniors and seniors. GeneLab for High Schools, or GL4HS, is an intensive four-week program, sponsored by NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division and managed by the agency’s Ames Research Center.

Where else in the world would students have the opportunity to learn about such topics as space biology omics-based research, bioinformatics, computational biology methods, and team experiments, while acquiring advanced proposal writing and oral presentation skills, all taught by university professors, industry experts, and past and present astronauts?

“This is a competitive program,” notes Dr. Sigrid Reinsch, the director of education and outreach for NASA’s Space Biology Program at Ames. “GL4HS is a great opportunity for students of various backgrounds to learn about space biology and engage with their peers across the country. Students are chosen based on their academic records, reference letters, and their personal statements. We want them to tell us why they want to enroll, why they’re interested in advanced space biology, and how the program may contribute to their career goals, as opposed to someone who’s just seeking to get another notch on their college application.”

Once enrolled, students form teams and pick topics to study and present. The whimsy of their team names belies the heady biology they’ll present at the end of the course. Some examples from the 2020 Class:

Team the Migh-T Cells: The Effects of Spaceflight-induced Oxidative Stress on Apoptotic Pathways and Aging in the Murine Thymus;

Team Epic-Dermis: Microgravity Effects on Dermal Thickness: An Investigation into Collagen Thickness;

Team the Bronchial Bros: Blood Clots in the Lung: The Role of Spaceflight in Altering Vascular Tone and Increasing Risk of Thrombosis;

Team Liveration: The Role of Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Kinase 4 (Pdk4) in Liver Lipotoxic and Repair Pathways during Spaceflight; and,

Team the Gutsy Girls: The Effects of Spaceflight on Innate Immunity of the Gut: The Role of Angiopoietin-4

The program’s lead instructor is Dr. Elizabeth Blaber of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who founded the program as a post-doctoral fellow at Ames. One of her observations is what her students say they get out of the program: “Yes, they learn a lot of content, a lot of biology, but what they really rave about is the people they get to meet. All the different scientists, the astronauts, all of them with different backgrounds, and all of them willing to share their experiences with the students. It’s almost like a networking opportunity for their future careers.”

When GeneLab for High Schools began, it was an in-person program whose enrollment was confined primarily to students in the San Francisco Bay Area – those who could commute to Ames on a daily basis. The pandemic changed that, and the 2020 program was held virtually. The silver lining was the program could become more inclusive. In fact, last year’s class was composed of 15 students from diverse backgrounds in five states: California, Illinois, Colorado, Virginia and Texas. In addition, four biology instructors were selected to attend the program and learn how course components could be implemented in their classrooms. The program will continue to be virtual for 2021, and only a computer and internet access is needed for students and teachers to participate.

Samrawit Gebre is the deputy project manager for the GeneLab Data System at NASA. She sums up the experience students get from the program this way: “It’s fun. It’s hard. You get to network with astronauts. You learn presentation skills you’ll use for the rest of your life. And you’re taught by some of the most amazing teachers in the country. When I explain the program to other scientists, the most common response I get is: ‘I wish this program had been around when I was in high school.’ That says a lot.”

Student applications to the 2021 GeneLab program this summer will be accepted until March 1, 2021, and can be found here: https://gl4hsapp.com.

Teacher-intern applications will be accepted until March 15, 2021 and instructions are here: arc-gl4hs@mail.nasa.gov.

The GeneLab for High Schools program is proudly supported by NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences (BPS) Division as part of its mission to pioneer scientific discovery and enable exploration. To learn more about BPS research initiatives, go to: https://science.nasa.gov/biological-physical.