Being a student doesn’t stop this young mind from being a scientist!
An inside look into the world of Merrina Lan and her research that led to an incredible 4th place award at the 2018 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, also known as ISEF. Her research, titled The Functional Requirement of aquaporin1a1 in Zebrafish Vascular Development, made her a finalist in the catagory of Cellular and Molecular Biology this year. You can take a closer look at her presentation poster and read her abstract below.
Just who is Merrina Lan? Well, as a recent graduate of Ames High School in Iowa this May, she’s on her way to her freshman year at Washington and Lee University with a full-ride Johnson scholarship. She’ll be studying Biochemistry AND Economics with the hope of becoming a professor or researcher (but who knows, maybe she’ll be both)! In school she lives it up in biology, chemistry, statistics, and history, but outside she still serves up that spicy genetics research in the Essner Lab of Iowa State University. The same very lab where she learned about zebrafish gene research and became interested in the vacular genes to begin her project. When she’s not making her mark on academic history presenting her research at local science fairs, you can find her racing the clock during swim competitions, singing Disney songs along to her ukulele, or making art crafts.
Let’s get into more about what she has to say on her research and studies.
Q: Tell us more about your experience in research?
A: I started doing research four years ago when I was placed into a lab in the Chinese Academy of Science, Institute of Biophysics. For several months, I came up with an idea of studying whether different cooking oils can make organisms get fatter. We used a cell line called 3T3-L1 and C.elegans, but the result wasn’t very conclusive due to the short amount of time I had.
A: Then in the summer of 2016, I attended the Carleton Summer Science Institute (CSSI), where I studied cancer biology and did a group project on how sunlight impacts DNA damage in B16 cells. We learned that these two variables were positively correlated, though the data was not statistically significant.
Q: Putting into perspective other young scientists reading this, could you elaborate on your process of finding research opportunities and places to present your work?
A: Finding a lab to work in was an arduous journey in itself. I emailed many faculties and staff of Iowa State University during my sophomore and junior year, but all of the replies were “no”s. I got very discouraged and cried a lot, yet I kept trying. Eventually, in the middle of my junior year, I got two offers. I visited both professors and their labs, and I chose to join Professor Jeffrey Essner’s lab.
A: My experience working in the lab is so enjoyable. The professor and lab members felt like a family of nerds, and I love talking to them. I got very close the graduate students and they would always comfort me and encourage me when I’m feeling down. I loved having my mentors guide me through research and beyond. Something I’ll deeply miss after heading to college this fall is not being able to see these awesome people everyday.
Q: How did you balance school life and research? What are some of your study habits and strategies you used to stay on task, or, did you just go with the flow?
A: I always came to the lab after school and in the weekends. I was fortunate to have taken several classes on Iowa State campus, which made it easy for me to get to the lab during my breaks. During summer, I would work there all day and sometimes stay later. Although my professor tells me to make school the priority, I actually did the opposite—making research the priority, as I cared about my progress in my project more than the things I’m forced to learn in classes. But I got a little burned out trying to do too many things at once and I don’t recommend it.
A: As for studying, I like to review what I have learned in all my classes after I get home. This refreshes my memories and I would complete my homework more efficiently. I also make summary sheets after each unit, this helps me prepare for exams, it is especially helpful for brute force memorizing organic chemistry reactions.
Q: When you were younger, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: When I was young, I wanted to be a teacher due to the fact that my grandmother and father were teachers. I liked the idea of sharing knowledge and nurturing kids. But after I started learning science, I felt that I don’t want to simply teach children things that were discovered by others, I want to be the one who discovers new things. Now, my goal is to become a scientist and uncover more secrets of mother nature.
Q: What’s the most important thing you learned while you were on this journey?
A: I learned that life is never easy. There are always obstacles, failures, and mistakes that make you doubt yourself.
A: I had a rough time adjusting to working on graduate-level research. Editing zebrafish DNA was so advanced that I had to self-study tons of advanced molecular biology concepts, read papers, ask questions, etc. Additionally, lab work also required patience, carefulness, and 90% of the time, I had to redo the experiment because something didn’t work. I want to let young aspiring scientists to know that research is NOT easy, it breaks your heart a lot and many people would end up quitting. But hard work will pay off in the end. (I actually wrote my college essay/personal statement on this topic). If you love science, don’t hesitate to email professors and don’t be afraid of being rejected.
Q: If you could have the power of any of the infinity stones (Space, Reality, Power, Mind, Time, Soul) which would it be?
A: Mind maybe?
Q: How can other young scientists hear more from you and about your research?
college email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Merrina Lan