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Zarnescu's work covered a wide scope—from dissection and staining with fluorescent antibodies to programming the computer algorithm needed to overlay images from thousands of samples. Simpson was glad to have Zarnescu there for the summer. "She could speak computer [with the programmers] and then come back and speak English to us."
Chelsea Trengrove switched majors several times in her first year at University of Colorado at Boulder, yet her pull toward neuroscience remains strong. "When I was five years old, I would read about the brain. All I want to do is research the brain," she says. "Since being at Janelia, I've thought that maybe I should get my Ph.D."
She plowed through textbooks to prepare for her work with group leader Loren Looger, a mathematician and chemist by training who has devoted himself to building better tools to study the brain. Trengrove's project focused on improving imaging of glutamate, the brain's primary excitatory neurotransmitter and a chemical that is useful for tracing neural activity.
The four undergrads stayed in a four-bedroom townhouse on campus, just a short walk from the laboratory building. The proximity helped them integrate into the larger community—including pick-up games of soccer and ultimate Frisbee after work. Trengrove was impressed by the sense of community. At lunchtime, for instance, there were empty tables in the cafeteria, but if people were sitting at any given table, every chair was taken. The place was often abuzz with new hypotheses, setbacks, and results. "Everybody was talking about what they were doing," she says. "I just tried to listen and understand."
Based on the success of this fledgling effort, HHMI has formalized the Janelia Undergraduate Scholars program for 2008 and will be accepting online applications from students.
Simpson says that providing a positive research experience for young people at the college level is a good way to inspire future scientists. After all, Simpson's summer research while enrolled at Princeton University is what sold her on science. She believes the summer undergraduate training program at Janelia will help to "convert smart young minds to neuroscience."
FOR MORE INFORMATION on applying for the 2008 Undergraduate Scholars program, visit www.hhmi.org/janelia/undergrad.html.