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"Vanderbilt research program for high schoolers is rewarding"

During this summer (2011), Sarah Matos participated in the Research Internship Program at the Vanderbilt University Center for Science Outreach. On July 11th, an essay depicting her experience was published in The Tennessean. It read as follows:

I am a 16-year-old high school junior participating in the Research Internship Program at the Vanderbilt University Center for Science Outreach. Directed by Virginia L. Shepherd, the center was established in 2002 to promote and develop a strong relationship between the scientific and educational communities.

The Research Internship Program is a highly competitive, six-week summer research internship for high school juniors. They accept students from local areas as well as out-of-town students. In fact, I came all the way from Puerto Rico.

On Saturdays, I participated in a high school research academy funded by the National Science Foundation at Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan. I excelled in that program, and I became noticed by its directors. They always send their best participants to different summer research internships in various universities and laboratories that they have partnerships with in the United States. This year, the Universidad Metropolitana had an opportunity to compete for a space in the Vanderbilt program. I was chosen as a representative of our program in Puerto Rico and applied for it. I soon became the first student from Puerto Rico to be selected into the research program. My family, friends, teachers and the directors of the Universidad Metropolitana were very proud of me.

In the research internship program, each student engages in an individual research project in a Vanderbilt University laboratory under the mentorship of a faculty member. Because of my interest in chemical engineering, I was placed in John A. McLean's lab. McLean is an analytical chemist whose research focuses on mass spectrometry, an analytical technique used to identify unknown chemical compounds, to quantify known compounds and to clarify the structure and chemical properties of molecules.

There are various ionization techniques for mass spectrometry. My research focuses on the use of graphite — pencil lead — as a matrix, a substance that facilitates ionization of molecules of interest to researchers. If pencil lead proves to be a good matrix, it will have a positive impact, because it is inexpensive and easy to use.

I greatly appreciate this opportunity that the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach has granted me. Not only myself, but all of the students that participate in the Research Internship Program have gained knowledge and hands-on lab experience that is usually unobtainable during high school. The initiatives of the centerhave a great impact on the educational development of its participants, and I have no doubt that their current efforts are enriching both the local and scientific communities.