Who would have thought that a group of high school students could earn the privilege of performing their original experiment on $200 million worth of scientific equipment and technology? Through the Students on the Beamline (SotB) program at the Canadian Light Source (CLS), this dream was made possible for 11 Meadowridge Students.
This past August, our group of bright student scientists, Rayan R., Akira Y., Grace Y., Jason L., Tsz Wun W., Hugh G., Steven W., Peter Y., Phoebe X., Isabel K., and Jerome W., performed their very own research project with the support of CLS experts. Over a year and a half of research and collaboration took place offsite, before this monumental onsite experiment.
They studied the effects of X-ray exposure on insulin’s molecular and structural stability when conducting an X-ray crystallography experiment, using CLS’ particle accelerator (synchrotron) located at the University of Saskatchewan, in Saskatoon.
The study findings could support future drug development and disease-specific research and can aid in improving the efficacy of research data.
This unique learning opportunity gives high school students an inside look at science in the real world. As the students explained, it was a paradigm-shifting experience.
“This experience opened my eyes to the world of scientific computing and the development of software to collect and analyze data. Working on such projects are not only technically challenging, but also meaningful as they provide a benefit to humanity.” – Akira
“We learned how to handle liquid nitrogen and how to fish out our crystals by using a tiny cryo-loop and examined them under the high-tech microscope, we then analyzed the protein structures using a 3D modeling software. This was a fantastic experience for me, and it inspired me to keep my passion for research. I discovered the connection between physics and biology and how they work together to develop drugs.” – Phoebe
“Conducting this experiment was eye-opening, especially for those of us who are looking to conduct research in the future. It made me consider what it would be like to enter an industry position in comparison to a research position.” – Rayan
“It was a great experience to meet the experts in X-ray crystallography. Giving the final presentation about our project to the staff at CLS was also incredible. –Hugh
In the hot pursuit of finding out how to preserve the integrity of the insulin crystal, our team of scientists developed their own questions, conducted and designed the experiments, analyzed the data, and drew bold conclusions. Through their experiment, they found that employing low, cryogenic temperatures during X-ray exposure effectively reduced the radiation damage to the crystal’s structural integrity.
“It was a great experience but experimenting with radiation damage on proteins and different exposure times at different temperatures was not as smooth sailing as I thought it would be in professional experiments. At times, we didn’t get the data we wanted, or the protein samples would be destroyed, this taught me that true science is prone to misfortune and solving problems are a part of the process.” – Jason
It was interesting to see how the beamline worked with non-traditional materials for gaskets and bolt coatings. – Grace
“I found it very interesting to see the process of preparing the crystals, and the importance of liquid nitrogen in a crystallography experiment.” – Tsz Wun
This event was mentored and chaperoned by a three-person team consisting of Ms. Cindy Hops, Ms. Carrie Mohoruk, and our esteemed alumnus ’19 Mr. Roy Zhao, whose time and expertise in math and physics proved invaluable.
“This experience empowered our young scientific thinkers to recognize the gift that lies within their style of thinking and their voracious appetite for learning. They presented their findings to an esteemed audience and were lauded for providing a graduate school-level presentation,” added Ms. Hops.
Ms. Hops says the project would not have been made possible without the CLS researchers, crystallographer Dr. Kurt Nienaber who worked relentlessly to generate the data, and the educational mentors, Anna-Maria Boechler, Amanda Pfeiffer, and Tracy Walker.