Russian City Mimics NIH
By Sharon Ricks
About 4,971 miles (as the crow flies) northeast of Bethesda, at the bend of the Oka River, Puschino is a Russian academic research town a lot like NIH. Recently, 11 students from the Number Three school in Puschino came to experience how first-class American laboratories work, as part of the Sidwell Friends School exchange program. They were surprised to find that NIH is a far away twin.
"Puschino was created as an academic research town in the early 1960's," explains Richard Lesczynski, a teacher at Sidwell and director of the Russian exchange. "It was built to be environmentally perfect and looks like a big park. The main street is a boulevard, and everything is within walking distance, with only a few cars and buses." NIH and Puschino have a lot in common, says Lesczynski. "Puschino is as large as NIH, the populations are similar, and scientists from both places study biology, physics, biochemistry and genetics."
Lesczynski worked with Sidwell science teacher Santha Bundy-Farah, a long-time participant in NIDDK-sponsored biotechnology classes, to schedule the 2-day NIH visit, as part of their 3-week United States tour. Bundy-Farah says Jacqueline Dobson, the NIDDK EEO specialist, was a big help. "We want to expose the students to biomedical research in a way that will influence and shape their future careers," says Dobson, who collaborates with Bundy-Farah to host the annual program.
The Russian teenagers visited the Clinical Center, the National Library of Medicine and NIDDK's Discovery Center at Catholic University. They dissected a pig's heart, a cow's eye and a sheep's brain at the Clinical Center; they extracted DNA from E. coli bacterial cells and separated DNA using agarose gel electrophoresis at the Discovery Center.
"They had a ball," says Sharon Greenwell, coordinator of the Research Awareness Program at the NIH Visitor Information Center, who helped with the tour. "They were good students, and we wanted to get them interested in science through hands-on learning experiences."
Lesczynski says NIH was a highlight of their stay in the U.S. "The sophistication and elegance in which things are done is wonderful," he explained.
In June, students from Sidwell visited the families of the Puschino students. Lesczynski says the program is more than a school-to-school exchange, it's a total immersion and the students become like brothers and sisters.
Most of the Russian students are children of scientists who live and work in Puschino. They live in apartments, and most families have a dacha, a one-room house with a garden outside where they grow vegetables for winter. The No. 3 school goes from kindergarten to grade 11.
In Puschino, the American students learned about horticultural and genetic research, of which Russian scientists are especially proud. They learned how Russian researchers bred a chrysanthemum that is able to withstand harsh Russian winters and planted vegetables in the dacha gardens. They ate shchi (cabbage soup) and ukha (freshwater fish soup), but most of all, they cultivated lifelong friendships with the families that sponsored them.
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