|Volume 38 Number 20||Edmonton, Canada||June 15, 2001|
High school student joins research project
Summer program links students with researchers
Seventeen-year-old Misha Hartfeil might be an anomaly at the Victoria School of the Performing and Visual Arts, where dance and drama reign supreme. The Grade 11 student will spend her summer as part of a University of Alberta psychiatric research team that will investigate how the brain recognizes facial expressions.
Hartfeil is one of 42 students matched with top researchers in the province as part of the six-week Heritage Youth Research Summer program funded by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. The University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge are also participating in the program, which was modelled after the U of A's Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology program. The AHFMR received 154 applications from students across Alberta.
"I was the only one in my school who applied," said Hartfeil, who has learned to love science through the International Baccalaureate program. "My IB teacher is so excited - he's been running around telling everyone."
Hartfeil will be paid to work in the lab of Heritage researcher Dr. Nicholas Coupland, where they will be studying how certain types of drugs affect people's perceptions of facial expressions. Healthy volunteers will be tested on their ability to judge emotions from computer-morphed faces, after taking medicines that temporarily alter the activity of brain chemicals.
"People with depression often think, people don't like me - look at how they are looking at me,' but we are trying to see if there are changes in the brain that alter those perceptions," said Coupland. "Misha will be interviewing the healthy participants about general health problems, and she will then do some computerized tests once some of the results start coming in."
Other U of A professors who have signed on for HYRS include Dr. Jonathan Lakey, from the renowned islet transplant diabetic team, pediatric oncologist Dr. Paul Grundy and Dr. Sandra Davidge, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Having these researchers open up their labs to high school students represents a unique opportunity, said the U of A's Grace Ennis, northern HYRS manager.
"These students are getting the chance to do something many university students don't have," said Ennis, adding that guest lecturers, poster sessions, field trips and a teacher's day are included in the program. "AHFMR wanted to make this available to as many schools as possible, so we limited it to two students per school. Then the HYRS students have to go back to their schools and present what they learned and try to spread a bit of that enthusiasm to other students."
Often, the HYRS students end up knowing more about their specific research than their high school teachers, said Ennis. "Some of these students will present things that even their teachers don't know," she laughed. "And last year Jonathan Lakey took time out to go to Salisbury High School, where his student was from, and he talked about his diabetes research. In terms of generating interest in science, that really helped."
Coupland hopes Hartfeil, who studies dance at Victoria High School, will leave his lab with a newfound appreciation for research.
"My job as a professor is to teach people and do research, and one of the biggest challenges is to get people interested in what I do," said Coupland. "Most people think the arts are the creative part, but now we have someone here to help dispel that myth. I hope through this project we'll be able to teach young people to think of things they've never thought of before."
For Hartfeil, she hopes the six weeks will be the kick-off to a career in science. "I don't know much about anxiety disorders or depression, but psychiatry has always interested me," said Hartfeil "I don't really know what to expect, but I imagine I'll learn a lot in six weeks. We don't do anything like this in high school science."
Healthy volunteers and patients with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or severe social anxiety can volunteer to take part in research by calling 492-0617.