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by Sarah Webb
Zebras, hippos, and wildebeests; frenetic mini-bus rides through Johannesburg; Swaziland women doing the graceful, rhythmic Reed Dance—for Rokhsanna Sadeghi last summer, just tying her sneakers and leaving her dorm each morning brought a new adventure. Every day she explored the beautiful and tangled web of science and culture in South Africa.
With world-class science now occurring on a truly worldwide basis, American scientists often spend time doing research in foreign lands. This is not the case for most students—especially undergrads—who rarely have the necessary resources or credentials. But for the past 5 years, an HHMI program has been pairing undergraduate students for summer research with the Institute's international research scholars. More than 40 students have been placed so far, from Mexico to India, and at least 20 more will have their chance this summer. Here, three undergraduates who participated during the summer of 2005 share their experiences of science and culture abroad.
When searching for an international research opportunity, Rokhsanna Sadeghi, a senior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, looked for a location and a project that would allow her to learn laboratory-based biochemistry and directly connect her research to health issues in the local community. Working with Valerie Mizrahi in her lab at the University of the Witwatersrand and the National Health Laboratory Service in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sadeghi came to better understand how vitamin B12 regulates the production of methionine—an essential amino acid—which in turn affects the growth and virulence of bacterial strains that cause tuberculosis, a disease that wreaks havoc among HIV/AIDS patients in that region.
Photo: Robert Rathe