San Marino Girl Experiments at NASA GeneLab

It’s not often that a clear path to a future career opens up for a high school student, but Sequoyah High School junior Louise Siskel made the most of that chance when it presented itself to her earlier this year.
The 17-year-old Siskel, who has lived in San Marino the past five years, now gets to conduct a scientific experiment at a NASA facility based on a research proposal she and another high school student concocted during NASA’s GeneLab for High School program. A family friend had first made Siskel aware of the opportunity.
“I’m interested in pursuing a career in biology, so she sent it to me thinking I’d be interested in it,” Siskel explained in a phone interview. “I had really been looking for a summer program where I’d actually be able to do some of the work that scientists do and get the experience doing that. To be able to talk to scientists who work at NASA and are making real contribution to their field is really exciting.”
The three-week program brought 15 high school juniors and seniors from around the state to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, which included a research training competition among the students, who were grouped together into teams. Siskel, along with partner Rujuta Sathe from Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, won that competition, earning them the chance to test their proposal, which aims to develop a theory as to why livers metabolize drugs differently in space.
“The goal of it was to give students an opportunity to see what research is being done in the biology department at NASA and give them some training and experience as to what the scientists are doing there,” Siskel said. “We were able to meet with all kinds of NASA scientists and professors to learn about how spaceflight affects living organisms.”
The pair will return to the Ames Research Center in August for two weeks to conduct their experiment using NASA facilities, equipment and guidance. The basis for their proposal came after studying mice liver function during this summer’s program.
“There was one specific moment where we had a breakthrough and we figured out that we had discovered something that scientists had never seen before and that moment was really thrilling,” Siskel said. “To be able to send an astronaut requires a whole slew of drugs to handle the spaceflight conditions and environment. It’s exciting to feel like you’re able to contribute to something in a way that feels more real than what you’re normally able to do in high school.”
More recently, the two were invited to the American Society for Gravitational Space Research Conference in Seattle from Oct. 25-28, where they again presented their research proposal to acclaim. The presentation was part of a high school poster contest involving 25 student teams, and it again won them top billing.
“They were actually interested in the content you had to share, which was really exciting,” Siskel said. “To get excited about it together was really, really fun.”
Siskel said her dream of becoming a scientist is not a new one; she’s had the desire since she was a kid.
“When I was a little kid, instead of having my tool and hammer and screwdriver, I had my doctor’s kit,” she said, explaining how she would frequently do “checkups” with her parents. “Science has always been something I’m interested in. I think scientists have a unique ability to affect peoples’ lives.”

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