Students excited about UCSF science program

June 11, 2010 8:28:42 PM PDT
Many high school students may be heading into summer with dreams of vacations, but some San Francisco students have something else filling their imaginations. There is a special joint program between UCSF and the San Francisco Unified School District.

UCSF researcher Cheuk Tong spends long hours exploring the relationship between stem cells and neurons. So sometimes it is kind of nice to take a break and play with fish.

"Under the microscope, you will observe the eyes of the fish moving along with the stimulus.... so that's the first experiment you're going to do," said Tong to the students.

Tong is part of a volunteer program at UCSF designed to bring high-end science into Bay Area high schools. She was at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School in San Francisco where students were learning the fine art of getting zebra fish to move using visual stimulation.

"It's really fun, because it re-ignites my passion for science. Like after a whole day of lab or whole week of lab, and experiments that don't really work very well. Then I see [the students] get excited about science, so I get excited too," said Tong.

The program exposes Bay Area students to everything from basic neurology to advanced brain research. And for many, it's their first exposure to people like Tong, who do science as a profession.

"Doing random experiments and you get information and it doesn't seem like a job, it looks like fun," said student Andrew Li.

"Yeah, they look like they're having a lot of fun with it, so maybe I would like to do it too," said student Carrie Lam.

The student body at Wallenberg is among the most racially and economically diverse in the city.

"And many of them have parents who didn't even go to college," said science teacher Deborah Apple.

She says she has had students from the 5-year-old program not only finish college, but move on to begin graduate studies, and even medical school.

"So to get them thinking about going to graduate school or going through medical school, to me is a huge achievement," said Apple.

If the program's mood seems light, teachers say the interest it inspires is often intense.

"Sometimes I try to simplify the problem for kids and try to explain science in a really simple way, but they come up with answers that the real scientists actually ask in my labs," said Tong.

And somewhere in the room, peering into a microscope, could be a future colleague.

The program is officially known as the Science and Health Education Partnership and some 40 scientists from UCSF are volunteering their time.


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