The CIRM SPARK program offers California high school students an invaluable opportunity to gain hands on training experience in regenerative medicine and stem cell research at some of the finest research institutes in the state. Mentored by expert scientists, SPARK students are trained in the latest cutting edge techniques to conduct innovative research that answers key questions in the regenerative medicine field. The SPARK program also focuses on teaching students about the patient side of research and therapeutic development.

10 students from the SIMR Program are funded by a special grant from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) SPARK Program.  These students are part of the SIMR Stem Cell Institute and intern at various stem cell and regenerative medicine labs within Stanford University.  In addition to the SIMR Core Lectures, students in the CIRM SPARK Program also attend lectures specific to the stem cell field and also participate in community outreach events.

To apply for the CIRM SPARK program, you can apply through the regular SIMR program online application system (click on the application link on the left panel).   Please choose Stem Cell Institute as your top choice if you are interested in the SPARK Program.  


Here are the blog entries written by previous CIRM SPARK Program students describing their summer experiences: 


Alex Escudero

I’ll go out on a limb and tell the truth of every SPARK student: this internship has been one of the most intellectually challenging things I have ever done.  Nothing can compare to the exhilaration of working in a lab and the feeling that the work being done could someday make someone’s life better.  Evidently, I haven’t spent my summer in a classroom, and for that, I could not be more thankful.  My lab-coat-wearing experience at Stanford has been tremendously empowering and intellectually stimulating.

This summer, I’ve been working with stem cells in the context of Down syndrome. Essentially, Down Syndrome is a developmental disorder that causes delays in development and intellect.  We know that an extra chromosome is associated with this disorder, but we don’t know the actual mechanism that directly causes the neurological deficits seen in Down patients.  We think that when an individual with Down undergoes embryonic development, certain cells are unable to regulate their cell cycle normally, which ultimately results in significant amounts of cells missing once an individual is born.  In short, if one cell in an embryo doesn’t divide as fast as other cells, it results in a mass absence of cells in a developed individual.  This may occur in Down Syndrome neurogenesis, or the part of development that involves the development of the nervous system, contributing to physiological and behavioral deficits observed in Down Syndrome patients.  To test this, we are using stem cells, or iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells).  We use control, or healthy, iPSCs, and iPSCs mimicking Down Syndrome stem cells.  We are observing cell doubling time (how long it takes for a group of cells to double in number), cell cycle time (how long it takes for one cell to go from division to division), and the length of individual cell division stages (prophase, metaphase, etc.).  My mentor and I use a spinning disk confocal microscope to take 72 hour time lapses of our iPSC cultures. The microscope shines a specific wavelength of light through the cells, which illuminates markers in the DNA of our stem cells.  Seeing the DNA is important because we can pinpoint specific steps in cell division and add time tags to them.  We then compile the time tags to find averages and standard deviations for our cell cycle/doubling time and mitotic phase time.  This project is still in its first steps; we are still working on characterizing Down cells from healthy cells.  Our work currently involves stem cells, but we hope to one day use neural progenitors; they’re like stem cells, except slightly more differentiated.  If an iPSC is a high school student who can decide to have any career path in any field, then a neural progenitor (what we want to use) is an undergrad student who has already chosen a field of study, but is still free to have any career within that field. Neural progenitors are more relevant to Down Syndrome than iPSCs.



Darya Buchholz

This summer, I was granted the unique opportunity to join SIMR and work in the Palmer Lab at Stanford University.  Because of this program, I have acquired skills and knowledge about the world of scientific research that I otherwise would not have at this point in my life.  For this, I am incredibly grateful.

Researchers at the Palmer Lab were investigating the negative effects of maternal immune activation (MIA) on the developing fetal brain, and how these may lead to behavioral deficits associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  ASD encompasses multiple disorders, and can be characterized by problems with communication and social interaction, as well as repetitive and restrictive behaviors.  MIA is the activation of a pregnant mother’s immune system following a very serious infection.  This extreme immune response can cause damage to the brain of the developing fetus, especially if the infection occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Through our experimentation, we found that the brains of mice that had been exposed to a mimetic for viral infection, and subsequently MIA, showed signs of developmental abnormalities.  One part of the brain that was particularly affected was the cerebral cortex, which helps control thought, language, and awareness.  After magnifying samples of this region, we discovered that the mice that had been affected by these immune challenges had thinner cortexes than the unexposed mice.  This finding shows that MIA following maternal infection is capable of causing damage to the developing brain.

Throughout these past eight weeks, I appreciated having the opportunity to work regularly in a lab, and be mentored by professional researchers.  In lab, there was always something new and exciting to do.  But what I enjoyed most was feeling like I was contributing to important work.  ASD is such a prevalent disorder, and studying the factors that may contribute to its onset can eventually lead to the development of ways to prevent it.  I am so glad that I was able to participate in this program, and gain such valuable knowledge and experience in this area of research.



Christina Thomas

In the lab that I worked in, I observed and was able to take part in multiple experiments that occurred. I learned many other things as well like to pipette, calculating dilutions, and how to extract RNA from a sample.  I was given the opportunity to work with different types of scientist throughout Stanford and even be given talks by some of the most famous scientists ever. I was given the chance to experience what it's really like to work as a scientist in a real lab and how everyone operates, I was able to become a real scientist as I helped with experiments in the lab and be able to contribute my work. I also received many tips and advice from people around the lab about medical school and what I should to be most successful in my upcoming school career. This is advice that I can take to heart, since these people have already went through this process and know what I must do to be successful. I was also able to meet so many other people just like me who are just teenagers, but have a real interest in science, more than others. This experience has definitely confirmed that I want to go into the medical field as my future career, but I'm not sure if research is what I want a career. I'm so glad that I at least gained some experience in a lab before college because I know that I will need it for medical school applications. I had so much fun learning more about the different types of sciences there are and how they work. It was so interesting to work one-on-one with my mentor as well because he taught me so much more about what I will be facing in my future and how beneficial it is to gain experience in a lab to be successful. I was also able to listen in on future projects that current Stanford scientists are working are, so I will know what's to come.



Cymeyna McFarland

This summer exceeded all of my expectations. After walking into LKSC, I was excited to start my internship with my new safety equipment. The summer was far more interesting than all of my cumulated science experiments, which is surprising, since I love science. I learned several lab techniques, met unforgettable people, and learned more about a rare disease I didn’t know existed. I loved every moment of my internship and would definitely encourage others to participate as well. We cultured cells, ran PCRs, and edited DNA with CRISPR. Over the summer, I realized that research is a long process, and it isn’t as easy to cure diseases as I once thought it was, but that makes it more valuable when you find an innovative discovery. After this summer, I can definitely envision myself working in a lab again in the near future.

My research focused on investigating the leading contributors in autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease (ARPKD). Tragically, it doesn’t have a cure and congenital. We modeled ARPKD through cells, which introduced me to personalized medicine, the field which helps patients become healthier based on their individual needs. I also learned that stem cells are fascinating because they can be engineered to turn into any cells. My project allowed me to appreciate the field of research for the fact that it works towards helping people live healthier lives. In the lab, I work in the cellular level but it’s mindblowing to think of the large-scale relevance.

We also attended a bone marrow drive, which was inspiring since we learned about all the useful applications of bone marrow donations. It can treat multiple diseases such as anemia and leukemia and change recipient’s lives forever. It was inspiring to hear the impact that Be The Match has created by making their bank worldwide. All in all, I’m grateful for all the time SIMR has put in to make sure that my summer was educational and enjoyable.



Gaby Escobar

            Walking into the lab that would become my home for the next 8 weeks, my mind was an empty canvas.  Up to that point, my perception of the realm of scientific research was one-sided. Limited to the monotonous textbook descriptions of experiments that were commonplace in a laboratory, I wanted more. I wanted to experience the alluring call of curiosity. I wanted to experience the flash of discovery and the unnerving drive that fueled our pursuit of the unknown. I was an empty canvas looking for its first artistic stroke. 

Being part of the CIRM Research program, I was lucky enough to have been granted such opportunity. Through the patient guidance of my mentor, I was immersed into the limitless world of stem cell biology. From disease modeling to 3D bioprinting, I was in awe of the capabilities of the minds around me. The energy, the atmosphere, the drive all buzzed with an inimitable quest for understanding. It was all I had imagined and so, so much more.  

However, what many people don't realize is research is an arduous, painstaking process. Sample after sample day after day, frustration and doubt loomed above our heads as we tried to piece together a seemingly pieceless puzzle.  Inevitably, I faced the truth that science is not the picture-perfect realm I had imagined it to be. Rather, it is tiring, it is relentless, and it is unforgiving. But at the same time, it is incomparably gratifying. You see, the innumerable samples, the countless gels and PCRS, all those futile attempts to fruitlessly make sense of the insensible, have meaning. As we traversed through the rollercoaster ride of our project, my mentor shared a personal outlook that struck very deeply with me: her motivation to work against obstacle after obstacle comes not from the recognition or prestige of discovering the next big cure but rather from the notion that one day, her perseverance may transform someone's life for the good.  And in that, I see the beauty of research and science: the coming together of minds and ideas and bewildering intuitions all for the greater good.

As I look back, words cannot express the gratitude I feel for the lessons I have learned. Undoubtedly, I have made countless mistakes (please don’t ask how many gels I've contaminated or pipettes I have dropped) but I've also created the most unforgettable of memories. Memories that I know I will cherish for the journey ahead of me. Having experienced the atmosphere of a vibrant scientific community, I have found a second home, a place that I can explore and question and thrive. And although not every day will hold the cure to end all diseases or hand an answer on a silver platter, every day is another opportunity.  And with that, I walk away perhaps not with the masterpiece of art that I had envisioned in my mind but rather with a burning spark of passion, ready to ignite.



Kalkidan Agdie

This summer, I’ve been working with stem cells in the Palmer Lab of the Lorem I. Lokey Stem Cell Building. It has been an amazing experience attempting to increase the efficiency of neuronal differentiation to find a stem cell treatment for Parkinson’s Disease. Current treatments for PD, at best, treat only the symptoms but cannot reverse or even halt the progression of the disease. Stem cell-based therapies could potentially reverse the degeneration caused by PD by replenishing the lost cells using stem cell-derived midbrain dopaminergic (mDA) neurons. However, the efficiency of stem-cell derived mDA neurons is currently too low to make this form of therapy clinically viable and it is critical to ensure that a cell transplant into the Substantia Nigra consists of adequate numbers of mDA neurons. If we can improve the efficiency of dopaminergic production from stem cells, the efficacy and outcome of the transplanted cells can be dramatically improved. Being a part of such relevant and important research as well as using the world-class facilities at Stanford has really transformed the way I view my future in medicine and research.

During my time in the Palmer lab, I spent most of my day in the tissue culture room where I took care of and maintained my murine embryonic stem cells. After the first few days of the program, I was the one responsible for feeding, passaging, and checking up on my cells which gave me a valuable feeling of responsibility and involvement. The ups and downs that come with research were also rewarding in their own way. I loved how one day you could be sad about the failure of an experiment and then excited because you have a possible solution the next day. The strength and quiet pride of all the lab members is also so inspiring. Most of them know that fame or riches don’t come hand in hand with a career in research but the fact that they are doing something with a purpose is more than enough for them. I wish to one day do the same.



Ken Hinh

Walking into the Lokey Stem Cell Research Building for the first time, I was blown away by the divine architecture and sparked a multitude of scientific inquiries. I had spent the past month differentiating pluripotent stem cells, cross-linking gelatin methacryloyl (gelMA) hydrogel, and designing 3D constructs using computer-aided design software (e.g. OnShape, TSIM), all in preparation for this final step: 3D bioprinting of vascular hiPSC-based cardiac tissue.

As I look back on my journey throughout these seven weeks, I am incredibly grateful for the experiences I have gotten from delving into the research field, gaining them through Nature journals, textbooks, experiments with my labmates, and conversations I have had with the people around me. The people I have met were not knowledgeable about the research field, but they were also excited to share their experiences with me in their unique ways.

SIMR has taught me that research is not an individual effort, but rather, an ongoing team effort with all of us. Research, ethics, and our overall mission to advance human health through compassion have all been values that resonated with me through my peers and mentors. We must all contribute to one another to truly advance the field of science as a whole.

From learning the basics of pipetting to taking care of pluripotent stem cells, I had to master these techniques to move on to more advanced techniques. I gained numerous perspectives on intricate techniques, such as immunocytochemistry, CRISPR, bioprinting, stem cell differentiation, and hydrogel preparation, which my colleagues have utilized and mastered throughout their years of research. I distinctly remember the first time I saw the BioAssemblyBot, an extrusion-based bioprinter. "The bioprinter is a novel piece of technology that can print cell patterns, tissues, and..." my mentor informed me as I was getting a demo on one of Stanford's state-of-the-art bioprinters while it was crafting a cardiac tissue. I had been blown away by the extraordinary piece of equipment and have been able to utilize it for my project.

My journey had plenty of roadblocks and challenges that I had to overcome throughout these two months. I had to realize that scientific research is an intricate process and we must foster our growth by having an optimistic mindset. Sometimes, when an experiment fails, you just have to learn from your mistakes and keep going because there might be a discovery in the brinks. Eventually, I could realize the regenerative techniques associated with bioprinting to revolutionize the field of medicine. I am thankful to be able to experience this whole journey through this summer program. It has sparked my further interest for not only medical school but also continuing research as I go on in my career path.



Diana Contreras

     Receiving the call that notified me of my acceptance into my institution’s program made my weekend. Receiving the email that informed that I would be in the Stem Cell Institute might have just changed my life.

  I vividly remember walking into my lab for the very first time and staring at all the equipment in absolute awe as the other members of the lab laughed and gave me odd looks. For the first few days, I was overwhelmed, as I had started working with concepts and equipment that were completely unfamiliar. Still, I was amazed as to how each biological concept was applied and how they played crucial roles in the experiments, particularly induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

  Before becoming a part of this program, I had a vague idea of what iPSCs were and what their function was, but I had never imagined the magnitude of their full potential. When my mentor first explained what they were, I felt as if I had been introduced to whole new realm. Who would’ve thought that something as seemingly ordinary as fibroblasts could be reverted to iPSCs, and, in the future, could possibly grow new organs for patients with medical needs? I couldn’t wrap my head around how something so new could possibly alleviate various diseases and save millions of lives in the near future.

  As the days passed, I became very familiarized with the application of stem cells to the medical field as well as with all my lab procedures and tasks, and soon, they became a part of my daily routine. However, there was an instance where an individual suffering from a spinal cord injury came in to interview our Principal Investigator as part of a documentary. He shared some of his experiences and struggles dealing with this injury and was intrigued by what iPSCs could do for spinal cord injured individuals in the future. This experience not only put things into perspective, but it also added much more meaning and purpose to the work that I had been doing at the lab.

Despite spending two months learning about how iPSCs could become the novel therapy for spinal cord injuries, this experienced has left me with the desire to learn more. I know wonder how these stem cells are being used in other fields to treat different illnesses, and I can see myself working with them further down the line. After all, “The more you learn, the less you know”. I would like to thank the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) for providing me with such a wonderful opportunity that has impacted me both as an individual and as a future scientist.



Kaylauni Cisneros

By the end of my junior year in high school, teachers started talking about the importance of internships and volunteer work over summer. They made it seem as if you'd never get into a good college if you didn't make some kind of world impact on your 3-month break from school. Being the over precautious person I am, I applied to a ton of internships, hoping I'd get into at least one. Even though I applied to SIMR, I really didn't think I had what it took to get in, but I applied anyways, thinking “What’s the worst that could happen?”. To my surprise, I ended up getting accepted. I was excited and nervous at the same time; on one hand, I would get to work in a prestigious research lab with skilled doctors, but on the other hand, I wouldn't have as much time to hang out with friends and family and I knew absolutely nothing about stem cells.

    By the end of the first week of the program, all of my worries had gone away. I’d met the program directors, my T.A, my mentor, and a ton of other SIMR students. I was amazed by all of the high-tech equipment and beautiful Stanford campus. I ended up having to do a lot of book work the first couple of weeks to fully understand the techniques we were using in lab and the science behind them, but once I understood, it made all the difference. Being part of SIMR has definitely opened my eyes up to research, a part of the medical field I had never considered. There are so many ways we can use stem cells to help people and discover better treatments and cures. 

I thought I'd be excited once this program ended, so I’d what’s left of my summer to do whatever I want, but now that my time at Stanford is coming to an end, I find myself wishing to have a few more weeks to do research. I’m so glad I had this opportunity to make new friends, preform research, and discover my new passion for regenerative medicine.



Joshua Ren

The Success of Failure

Success? Maybe not…

My mentor, Guang, gave me the protocol for our new single molecular fluorescent in situ hybridization (smRNA FISH) the first day I arrived and we began our experiments soon after. (smRNA FISH is a complicated process which essentially allowed us to visualize the expression pattern of our gene of interest, Vsnl1, in early embryonic heart development.) Man, that was interesting. I mean, there was only one way to describe it: disaster. My first attempt resulted in a haphazard mess of colors splotched all over the heart tissue, and my second attempt was… not much better to say the least. I tried an array of other techniques- CRISPR, siRNA Knockdown, RNA Extraction- but nearly everything I did was of little or no avail. I was ready to admit defeat, but something told my mind to keep moving and PERSEVERE.

Success? Getting there.

I decided to take a step back and ‘relax,’ or in other words, read endless pits of grotesquely detailed articles and watch at least 3 videos on a single technique or idea. However, these efforts and suffering were not in vain. After bombarding Guang with a nearly infinite number of questions and ideas, I began to understand what was happening… the why am I doing this. And seriously, once I knew why I was adding all of these unpronounceable reagents and why I was conducting all these seemingly over-convoluted experiments, the how became simple. The smRNA FISH, the CRISPR, the genotyping, became almost easiest because I knew what the purpose of doing it was (and with knowing how to actually practice sterile technique *cough* *cough*). Success became an obtainable objective. The smRNA FISH displayed beautiful and specific pictures of blue, cyan, red, and green dots. The CRISPR knocked out genes. It was amazing!

Success? Two steps forward, one step backward…

Even though my experiments worked, each success I had was answered by more questions and more…failures. Particularly, I now have traces of grey hairs because of experiments utilizing CRISPR. I was on the hunt for a knockout mouse, but like tooth fairies, I couldn’t find any. It was here that I learned about brute force, and not the kind used to knock people out, but the kind that requires perseverance. I analyzed dozens of mice, and finally, by the 60th mouse, I found a result. I found a successful knockout at embryonic day 8.0, and I felt so joyful that I actually jumped up and down (not a childish manner in any way).

Success? Yes.

Now that I look back on this experience, I realize that I really did enjoy doing medical research this summer and am truly grateful I got a mentor as patient and caring as Guang. I have gained both academic and social qualities from Guang, my researching peers, and my TA’s that I couldn’t have developed in any other experience and honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. My love for research is as permanent as the deletion mutation in the mice I worked with, which is forever.



So much has passed by my eyes, digested by my brain, and obtained throughout this summer. These past couple of weeks, I have been fortunate enough to attend the Stanford Institutes of Medical Research where I was placed in the stem cell institute. I have never been much interested in stem cells; the subject never obtained my attention. That is until I accurately began to understand them, study them and manipulate them in order to create methods to cure genetic mutations in the genome. This summer I jumped onto a project where we attempt to use the CRISPR/CAS9 system to cleave the JAG1 mutation causing diseases like Alagille syndrome. Throughout my research I learned the best pipetting techniques to have the best possible results, and the reasons for creating polymerase chain reactions, bacteria transformations, and running electrophoresis gels. 


The beginning of my life-changing adventure, known as the Stanford Institute of Medicine Research Summer Program or SIMR as we loving call it. I had been waiting for this day since mid-March when I had received my acceptance email. I was filled with excitement, wonder, nervousness, and a little bit of confusion. Would I fit in with the other students? Would my mentor and lab members like me? Would everyone be nice? Would I be able to handle university level research? I had so many questions, but from the moment I stepped foot onto campus I knew everything would be great. I was greeted by a circle of other SIMR students outside our building. They were going around introducing themselves and telling others which institute they were in. Even from that very first moment, there was a bond between institute members, a little hoot here and there or a “Me too!” I knew things could only get better, and they did. I remember standing in line to check-in and receiving my very own lab coat and safety goggles, among other awesome SIMR gear (yay T-shirts!).



Throughout my 8 weeks of research, my lab focused on finding a way to restore motor function after a cervical spinal cord injury, the most common type of spinal cord injury. I focus mainly on behavior testing, where I’m analyzing four types of behavior tests. Cylinder test, grip strength, ratwalk, and ladder rung test are the four behavior tests I analyzed. Even though I was not able to work with live animals, I was able to also analyze the spinal cord and tissue. I was passionate about mounting tissue on a slide. It requires attentiveness because I needed to remove a gel protecting the tissue without tearing the tissue with a thin paintbrush. My mentor was amazed I performed well taking in consideration that I have never mounted before. I find regenerative medicine for spinal cord injury essential since a single breakthrough could lead to restoring function within a singular cervical segment and that could translate to recovering motor function. In other words, recovery of motor neurons means the patient could possibly be able to move some of his/her limbs again. I will always remember from the nobel prize winners talk that a scientist should not go chasing a nobel prize but instead work hard and do it with passion. The reward should be icing on a cake and will come later on. To me, my reward is being able to help people.


First day in the lab: researchers are hunched over their laptops, eyes glued to their respective screens, navigating through complex scientific papers, a shaker is gently rocking back and forth a plate of cells in pink media, a stirrer is furiously clacking against the walls of its flask, which is labelled PEPSIN, and people with gloved hands are milling around performing various laboratory procedures. My eyes roam across the new, foreign surroundings, taking in everything all at once. There are beakers and vortexes and pipettes and flasks and tubes and syringes and I am so excited to start working.



This summer has been full of learning and experiences that I would have never been a part of if I had not participated in this internship. People my age do not commonly come across opportunities like this where we are given the opportunity to do hands on medical research with very intelligent and hardworking people. I am very grateful that I was able to intern in a lab and really get the feel for what a career in research would look like for my own eyes.

After this internship I have gained insight on many things. I realize how time-dependent research is and that things do not always turn out how expected but that just opens the door for more improvement and for more questions to be asked. Conducting research really takes a certain type of person: someone who is very tenacious and determined to never give up and keep going no matter how long it takes to get an answer.



Coming into SIMR, I had a lot of technical lab experience from my high school. I had run numerous gels and had micropipetted a countless number of times. However, no classroom can ever fully prepare you for conducting your own research. The first time I ever walked into a living, breathing laboratory, buzzing with postdocs and fellows, was at the CSSR building in the Stanford School of Medicine. In my head, I was able to name many familiar tools, but there was also a good amount of equipment I had never seen before. There were also so many procedures I had never heard of before, like spraying your gloves with ethanol before entering them into a fume hood. After a quick tour, I was quickly put to work to design my own research project and decide what I wanted to spend my summer studying. I spent hours reading research papers on Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension, its underlying causes, and the molecular aspect of it all, amongst other things. “How would I be able to produce something productive from a couple days of reading published papers?” I thought. 


Over the course of the summer, my main goal was to track the monoallelic expression of differentiating cells as they specificated from embryonic stem cells to neural progenitor cells.

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs), cells every human has during the fetal stage of their development, have the ability to specificate into any type of cell that is carried within and on the body. The environmental influences of any given ESC determines the type of adult cell it will turn into. In the same talking, every adult cell we have has come from a set of ESCs that have specificated, or differentiated, to become whatever the adult cell is currently. The many possibilities ESCs can eventually become is a major factor in why they are being used across many areas of biological research now. We have found major similarities in the biological evolution and function between humans and mice, so we have resorted to using embryonic stem cells within mice for our research.



This summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program specifically in the Stem Cell institute at the Yang Lab. Before the program even started, I had no idea there was such a thing as using stem cells for regenerative medicine or what cardiomyocytes were. I had taken a Biology class and knew the basic functions of a cell however, I did not know beyond this.

I remember the first day clearly, everyone in my institute was so nice as well as the people in my lab. I remember being handed a packet on a topic of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs). I sat there. Reading. I had no idea what the first sentence meant and I felt overwhelmed with the terminology as I kept reading. Fortunately, my mentor, Michelle, was able to explain everything in a way that would make sense to me.



Wash. Rock. Aspirate. Repeat.

Six weeks of diligent work had culminated with six delicately miniscule mouse embryos, so transparent that my eyes often lost track of them as they sloshed around in solution. My mentor and I had spent the past month running PCRs, conjuring up gels, and transforming plasmids into bacteria, all in preparation for this final step: the in situ hybridization. The purpose of this complicated sounding process was to insert RNA probes into the embryos, which would allow us to observe the expression pattern of the gene Fgf12 in embryonic heart development (specifically in the atrium). The next four days would be filled with myriads of strange solutions comprised of mysterious, unpronounceable substances. These deceptively clear liquids were capable of performing painstaking chemical processes at the molecular level, something that my mind could hardly fathom. Each step involved washing the embryos with different solutions (which could contain anything from methanol to antibodies), then rocking them for a certain amount of time, and lastly aspirating out the no longer needed liquid.



In high school biology, we learn the fundamental principles of science through one of the most straightforward methods: vocabulary definitions. We open our textbooks to this week’s chapter, flip through the pages, and BAM! Right there, laid out in bold print are the chapter’s key terms. In early May, shortly before learning I had been given the opportunity to do stem cell research over the summer, I flipped open my textbook to this week’s chapter: The Essentials of Stem Cell Biology. Like any other chapter, I looked for the key terms and came across a word that seemed like any other word at the time. Little did I know, this word would change my entire outlook on science, medicine, and opportunity in a few short weeks.