Army Education Outreach Program Provides Lab Research Experience for Undergraduates and High School Students

Chae Lee (left), Brett Vaccaro (center), and Angela Sun (right) gain research experience at Rutgers–Camden through the Army Education Outreach Program.

By Jeanne Leong

Having the opportunity to conduct scientific research in a lab is invaluable to students considering a career in the sciences.

Through the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program, two South Jersey undergraduates and one high school student are interning this summer at Rutgers University–Camden with Jinglin Fu, an assistant professor of chemistry.

The Army’s programs are designed to help students develop critical skills in science and engineering research at a university lab.

The internships offered at Rutgers–Camden are allowing South Jersey students to study the structural design and characterization of apatmers, which are single-stranded DNA or RNA molecules that can bind to pre-selected targets including proteins and peptides. They are also testing the switchable DNA nanostructures for biosensing function. It will lay the foundation for the future development of feedback-controlled biochemistry reaction circuits.

Chae Lee, a rising senior at West Deptford High School, is thrilled to be getting a head start in research work.

“In high school, I don’t get lab experiences like this,” says Lee, of West Deptford. “Here, I have a longer period of time to grasp knowledge of what I am doing and what my project is based on. I think what I learn in this internship will be very helpful to me when I go to college and do more internships.”

Eventually, Lee’s work on sensor development could help lead to an important discovery.

“Later, these sensors may be used to detect the various pathogens of diseases so they can be used in the future use to protect people’s health,” says Fu.

Chae Lee, Brett Vaccaro, and Angela Sun, with Jinglin Fu, assistant professor of chemistry

Brett Vaccaro, a rising senior at Rutgers–Camden, says his training in the U.S. Navy, where he served for nine years, taught him the importance of attention to detail. Now, he brings that skill to the lab. While Vaccaro is working with Fu on DNA research, he knows that being precise is crucial.

“There are a whole bunch of numbers and tables and things that you have to follow as far as how much you have to pipette, how much you dispense volume-wise into one tube or another,” says Vaccaro, a biology major from Maple Shade. “If you are off, or if you have poor dexterity handling these things, it can ruin your experiment very easily.”

Angela Sun, a rising sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University, is considering a career in research, but had never conducted research in a lab, until her internship at Rutgers University–Camden.

“It’s been really fun to see how eventually big scientific discoveries or ideas are reached,” says Sun, of Cherry Hill.

For Fu, his research lab benefits from having the interns perform an important role.

“The students are the researchers who spend eight hours a day on the bench to explore, observe, and research phenomena,” says Fu. “With their effort, we can get more and more data and these data can lead to future success with a bigger impact.”

Rutgers University–Camden is one of 40 host universities for the Army Educational Outreach Program’s Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program. The university is among 31 universities in the United States and Puerto Rico chosen to host one student in the High School Apprenticeship Program. In addition to the experience of conducting research, each of the interns earn a $3,000 stipend for their two months working the lab, which wraps up in late August.

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