Christopher Cervantes: A High School Student Doing Research
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
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
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
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.