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NIH Record

Young Scientist Collects Multiple Awards for NIH Project

By Shannon E. Garnett

Award-winning scientists are generally not hard to find on the NIH campus, however, MeiTung Lynn Yu — an 18-year-old Rockville High School senior who recently won top prizes and honors in 3 different science fairs for a project she developed at NIH — is unique.

Last spring, Yu entered her project, titled "Novel Method of Gene Transfer Using the Recombinant Viral Protein 1 of the Human Polymavirus BKV," in the Rockville High School Science Fair and won the grand prize.

With her win at the Rockville fair she earned the chance to compete regionally in the 43rd Montgomery Area Science Fair, where she won first place in the microbiology category and grand prize in the life science senior division. As part of her prize, she won an expense-paid trip to compete in the 50th Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Philadelphia. She also picked up two additional honors — a Graduate Women in Science Certificate of Recognition and a United States Army Certificate of Achievement.

MeiTung Lynn Yu and her NINDS poster

"When I saw the other participants had such fabulous projects, I felt very lucky to have won the regional fair," said Yu. "I had a great time in Philadelphia. I got to see a lot of different projects that students my age from all over world are working on."

At the ISEF, Yu won third place in the microbiology category — earning a $1,000 scholarship, and a United States Army Certificate of Achievement that included a $3,000 savings bond and a medal. She also received the Association of United States Army 1999 London Youth Forum Award, which included $150 and an expense-paid trip to London to attend the forum in July, where she will also present her project.

"One of the reasons she was successful was not only the amount of work and the level of science that were involved in her project, but also her personal understanding of the scientific work itself," said Dr. Eugene Major, chief of NINDS's Laboratory of Molecular Medicine and Neuroscience and Yu's preceptor. "Her ability to orally present the science to others was the key to her success. We are very proud of her."

The Intel ISEF, the world's largest pre-college science competition, is often called the "Olympics" of science fairs because of its global reach, scientific scope and size. Each year the competition, which was held in May, brings together approximately 1,000 students from more than 40 countries to compete for scholarships in 15 categories representing all life sciences, from behavioral and social sciences to microbiology and zoology.

Yu and her mentors and preceptor (from l) Dr. Stephan Frye, Peter N. Jensen and Dr. Eugene Major celebrate her successful project.

Yu came to NIH in 1998 as part of a special program sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Montgomery County school system. Each year HHMI selects a limited number of Montgomery County school students who excel in science to spend a year at NIH as interns, conducting research under the guidance of NIH mentors.

Yu began working in Major's lab last July. Her project involved the expression and isolation of a recombinant protein, rBKVp1. She discovered that this recombinant protein produced a virus-like structure capable of transferring a gene into human cells. This method of gene transfer can be applied to various genes or cells and has potential for other uses in addition to gene therapy.

"I've been interested in science since I was very little," said Yu, whose father is an herbalist. "Science comes very naturally to me."

A well-rounded student, Yu has other interests besides science. She not only serves as the news managing editor of her high school newspaper The Rampage, she also designed and maintains the newspaper's Web site.

Yu plans to extend her science project working at NIH throughout the summer, and to continue her studies this fall as a freshman at Johns Hopkins University. She recently won a $10,000 Woodrow Wilson Research Scholarship from the university, where she will major in biomedical engineering. As a participant in the Howard Hughes program, Yu also received a Certificate of Recognition for Scientific Accomplishment and a State of Maryland Governor's Citation. She plans to attend medical school and earn an M.D./Ph.D. degree.

"I want to thank my preceptor and my mentors who helped me with my project," said Yu. Her mentors are Peter N. Jensen, a biologist, and Dr. Stephan Frye, a visiting fellow, both working in LMMN.

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