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Christopher Cervantes: A High School Student Doing Research

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Author: Christopher Cervantes | Category: Around Campus | Career Development | Meet The Researcher | July 30, 2015

Christopher Cervantes, a research assistant in Dr. Feng Liu’s lab discusses the impact that the NISD Summer Research Program had on his passion for science.

In the summer of 2007, I began my professional training as a scientist. I was chosen from my school district to participate in its summer research program held at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Since middle school and the early part of high school, I was active in science fair and learned how to speak in front of people.

It was at these events where I also heard a lot of interesting people talk about their projects. I believe it was those nascent experiences that propelled me into a life of science. I knew I had a knack for it.

Luckily for me, as I progressed through my time at John Marshall High School, I met Mr. Roy Baldwin, who was one of my favorite teachers because he was not the type to trim the fat from his student’s education. 

For me, not only was he a great science teacher but he was also one of my earliest science mentors. His encouragement and guidance led me to apply to the program and start my training at the age of 16. 

I worked with Dr. Senlin Li that summer testing the transfection efficiency of a cationic polymer called polyethylenimine.

Transfection is simply the process of introducing foreign DNA like plasmids into mammalian cells. It can be accomplished thorough the use of different chemicals like calcium phosphate among others.

We set out to compare the cost-effectiveness between polyethylenimine and another chemical called Fugene 6.

For my project, I conducted numerous transfection experiments in HEK-293 kidney cells using DNA fused to green fluorescent protein, commonly known as GFP, which was my marker for measuring transfection efficiency.

In addition, we tested other plasmid DNAs containing viral packaging proteins and assessed the effectiveness between the two methods. Overall both chemicals achieved good transfection efficiency however, polyethylenimine performed slightly better and was significantly less costly than Fugene 6. 

During my junior year, I presented my findings at several local, state and international science fairs as well as at the Texas Academy of Science, earning several awards and scholarships along the way.

I spent the following summer at MIT and briefly did research at the Broad Institute. I recently completed a biology degree from MIT and currently, I am a research assistant to Dr. Feng Liu at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

It’s great being back and being a lab rat again. I’m using this time to improve my mind and hand in hopes of contributing toward future publications as well as gaining more research experience before I start graduate school. 

Ever since that fateful summer in 2007, the world has become my scientific oyster. I do not yet know where my streaming thoughts and dreams will take me.

However, I do know my life will never be stagnant. It will always be filled with challenges, disappointing failures, and successes because that is what a scientist’s life is all about. If it wasn’t, then you would be doing it all wrong. 

This article is part of the "Meet The Researcher" series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. 

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