October 7th, 2019

I began my science career at the age of eight when I discovered a circuit kit in the basement of my grandparent’s house. I took the circuit kit home and would play with it for hours trying to put together transistor radios to play music. Since then, I found myself taking special interest in my science classes such as chemistry and biology.  I have also been one to question my surroundings and then take the initiative to find the answers and explore those questions. My curious nature ultimately brought me into science research.

I began carrying out research when I signed up for my school’s research program freshman year of high school. I had an amazing teacher who taught me what science research was all about and how any curiosity can be developed into a project. Each year in the class I worked on a different project and continued to learn more and improve upon my research techniques.. My research in school has been incredibly varied with projects about the effect of swearing in politics to the effect of the pH of food on the survival rate and fitness of fruit flies through many generations.

I was looking for a lab to work in to expand my scientific knowledge, obtain experience working with a mentor, learn new lab techniques, and gain exposure to a field I have not yet explored. My passion for research brought me to the Montclare lab where I am researching hydrogels. Hydrogels are linked polymer networks that can absorb water. Hydrogels are typically used in applications such as agriculture, contact lenses, diapers, cosmetics, personal care, and drug delivery. I enrolled in the NYU GSTEM program that gave me the opportunity to take my scientific inquiry and passion to the Montclare lab. I took special interest in the NYU GSTEM program due to the fact that I would not only be getting this incredible lab experience but I would also be surrounded by other girls my age who share the same dedication to science as I do.

I was chosen as one of 40 applicants from young women scientists around the country to participate in the GSTEM program. The program allowed me to gain hands-on lab experience for five weeks in addition to field trips every Friday with the rest of the group. On the field trips, experienced different areas of STEM by visiting places such as Google Headquarters and the American Museum of Natural History. Additionally, women in STEM came to share their experiences in the field and gave advice to us budding scientists. The goal of the program was to allow young women with an interest in STEM to gain a more serious research experience while also creating an environment of girls who not only share the same passion for science but also support each other in their scientific endeavors. I think the program was highly successful in achieving this goal as I am walking away with a completed research project, an immense about of new knowledge I learned from my experience, and with 39  new friends as well.

At the start of the program, I was first given an index card with the name of the project I would be working on. It stated “protein engineered biomaterials” and I had no idea what to expect. I had never previously been exposed to this kind of lab experience and field of science. I was excited but nervous. I have learned now that the complex and confusing title I received on my index card meant that I would be producing a hydrogel by using proteins as the underlying material.

I can say confidently that my lab experience has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. It’s incredible to me how much I have learned a tremendous amount in just the few weeks that I have been here. My mentor, Yao Wang, has been extremely supportive and helpful throughout the research process, making sure that as I do all steps required in the research, that I understand why I’m doing it, and the mechanisms behind the steps. She has helped me to complete my project, which is tuning protein engineered hydrogels using metal ions, Having Professor Montclare check on our progress was also very helpful for me to organize and practice presenting the project. The project itself was fascinating as I got to see the things I’ve learned from school come together and take on real applications. Additionally, it was interesting to see that I can make something on such a small scale, produce something from proteins as the underlying material and that it can take on applications to better the world. I am delighted that I was able to be a small part of what the lab is working on.

In the fall, I will start senior year of high school and begin applying to colleges. In college I am looking to achieve a degree in Engineering and further my scientific knowledge. I am mostly interested in pursuing either materials science or biomedical engineering. For most of my life, I thought I was going to be on the pre-med track in college but this experience helped me to realize that I am more interested in pursuing engineering.

-Lianna Friedman