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Prominent Summer Internship

St. Cecilia Academy
Ellie Rodgers ’22 Pursues Online Internship at the Miller Lab at Vanderbilt University
“Seeing and learning about real research in the field that I hope to be in is so interesting and inspiring for me.”
Nashville, TN (June 2020) - What happens when your long-awaited Spring internship happens during a season of social distancing? For rising junior, Ellie Rodgers, the answer is simple: you move it online! Ellie stays in touch with the Cell and Developmental Biology Laboratory of Dr. David Miller at Vanderbilt University by joining their twice-weekly Zoom calls. Each day has a different purpose: “Wednesday's meeting is a journal club,” says Ellie, “so one of the lab members will choose a scholarly article to review, and each person will present a data figure from said paper. This has been a great way for me to see neuroscience in action by reading and discussing new papers in the field, and it has allowed me to learn more about the lab's own research on Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), a microscopic nematode.”

C. elegans is a type of roundworm that is valuable to neurological research because “its own nervous system has been mapped to the last synapse: we know where every single one of the worm's couple hundred neurons is located and with which others it is connected.” Ellie writes, “the most interesting article that we have discussed so far was about a single neuron [named] PVD in C. elegans that engages in both nociception, which controls the worm's responses to harsh touch, and proprioception, which is more or less spatial awareness and is vital to the worm's ability to move normally.” Ellie learned that genetics also plays a key role in this neuron and its functions, “altering the expression of certain genes has noticeable effects on the worm.” These effects can be seen in two photos included in this post and “demonstrate the effects that certain gene mutations have on the wavelength and amplitude of the worm's motion.” Ellie reflects, isn’t it crazy that changing something that seems so small in a single neuron can have such profound effects?”

During her second lab meeting on Thursdays the focus is more on lab matters and many of the members show their developing data and associated research. Ellie’s already deep interest in science has grown and “seeing and learning about real research in the field that I hope to be in is so interesting and inspiring for me,” she says. While many students have seen their anticipated spring events postponed or canceled, Ellie says gratefully, “I am so thankful to participate in these meetings and to stay in touch with the Miller lab even [though] in-person meetings aren't possible at the moment.” This month, Ellie will begin remote work for the lab doing single-cell RNA sequencing. Additionally, Ellie will receive academic credit for her lab efforts through the Scientific Research course option available to advanced science students at St. Cecilia Academy. At the conclusion of her project, Ellie will write a research paper and present her findings to the school community through a faculty member panel. Look for an update on Ellie’s discoveries in the months to come!