Two Central Florida high school students are collaborating with Rollins undergraduate students on cutting-edge scientific research.
As part of Rollins’ Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program, Visiting Associate Professor of Chemistry Luis Martinez is overseeing innovative and challenging research projects being conducted by Jaciel Ferrera ’14 and Diana Cox’14. Collaborating with them are two high school students from the Rollins Upward Bound Program, a pre-collegiate program designed to reinforce academic preparation and success for low-income or first-generation college aspirants.
Oak Ridge High School junior John Ducilon is assisting Ferrera with synthesizing a prescription drug (metformin) with a fluorescent label that will be traceable in microscopy experiments to track where the drug is acting on the cellular level. Martinez believes their findings will have broad-reaching implications.
“Although metformin’s activity as an antidiabetic drug is well characterized, it activates a number of additional biochemical pathways involved in cancer and autoimmune disease,” Martinez said. “This labeled compound will provide the biologists a new tool to study the proteins and tissues where this drug acts.”
Cox and Marjory Delva, a senior at Apopka High School, are also attempting something that’s never been done before. They are identifying a new catalyst for a chemical reaction that can be used for the synthesis of a number of bioactive compounds.
However, what excites Cox and Ferrera more than the potential for ground-breaking, publishable findings is sharing the experience with their young lab assistants.
“Marjory is really excited and I’m eager to share with her a more advanced side of science,” Cox said. “I would have been just as excited if that was me in high school.”
Ducilon knows the experience will point him in the right direction. “I’ve always wanted to be a scientist, but I never knew which kind I wanted to be. Who knows where this will take me, but a degree in chemistry could definitely be in my future.”
Martinez hopes that introducing the Upward Bound students to college-level science and the guidance of current college students will give them the confidence to flourish in every aspect of college life. “First-generation college students can feel intimidated by professors. It’s my hope that this experience will help prepare them for college success by connecting classwork to real world problems and making them more comfortable asking questions and interacting with faculty and other students”