A daily dose of Jeopardy on TV keeps Eric Newman, his father, Steven, and brother, Adam, on their intellectual toes.
Some families share a business or a love for sports. Others, like the Newmans of Rockville, Maryland, share a thirst for facts and figures.
During cross-country road trips that the family likes to take, Steven Newman sowed the seeds of a curious mind in his son, Eric. The elder Newman would quiz Eric on U.S. presidents, state nicknames and geography as they crisscrossed the contiguous 48.
Trivia has always attracted Steven Newman. He got his start on his high school's trivia team and appeared on the TV show Jeopardy in 1991, winning five times and taking home more than $75,000.
Eric, now a senior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, is following in his father's footsteps. He was a three-time school geography bee champion in middle school, going on to second and fourth place finishes in state bees. Now he serves as captain of his high school's trivia team. In recent years, he's earned a number of trips to national competitions.
Last year, Eric decided to turn his flair for fact gathering to scientific pursuits. He was accepted into the Montgomery County Public Schools' Student and Teacher Program (STP) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In this program, which is supported by HHMI, selected high school students and teachers are given an opportunity to do research in NIH labs under the tutelage of biomedical researchers there.
Inspired by the movie A Beautiful Mind and a high school science project, Eric chose to do schizophrenia research in the lab of Thomas Hyde, an NIH senior staff scientist in the National Institute of Mental Health. Hyde, who investigates the biological basis of schizophrenia, turned out to be no stranger to the Newman family's trivia mania. He was the captain of the trivia team at Magruder Senior High School in Rockville when Eric's father, Steven, joined the team as a junior.
Hyde's lab uses microarrays, a fast and efficient way to measure gene expression. Eric has been doing microarray prep work, pulverizing and homogenizing postmortem brain tissue of normal and schizophrenic subjects. "He's an integral part of the team," says Hyde. "We like to treat our high school students basically like postdoctoral fellows." The teenagers, though, work under direct supervision at all times.
Eric found the work less intense and his mentors at NIH more willing to instruct than he'd anticipated. He hasn't ruled out a career in science, but right now he's more interested in medicine. "I think I'd like working with patients, so I could see the results," he explains.
Eric has been accepted in the University of Maryland's Gemstone Program, a highly competitive honors program in which undergraduate research teams present a team thesis at the end of four years of study. He expects to major in biochemistry, although he has an affinity for math as well.
Meanwhile, Eric continues to memorize the names of famous authors and composers. "He likes the knowledge, but he also likes the competition," says his father, who twice has been asked to serve as a "lifeline" for Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, although he hasn't been called. Eric's younger brother Adam, a nationally ranked tennis player, has a flair for trivia as well. He too was a three-time geography bee winner in middle school, and he's joined the high school trivia team captained by big brother Eric.
In addition to preparing his HHMI-NIH internship research presentation for the program's annual dinner symposium at HHMI headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on May 8, Eric is gearing up for a national high school trivia competition in Orlando, Florida. His school's trivia team also has reached the semi-finals of the TV show, It's Academic. "We have a really good team this year," says Eric says confidently. "We're going to win."