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Vol. LIX, No. 9
May 4, 2007

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NCI Student Intern Nabs Science Honor, Plays Key Role in Cancer Lab

NIBIB 5th Anniversary Symposium
Look out Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins—there’s a new kid in town.

The town is Frederick and the new “kid” is Alex Ray, a high school senior who since last summer has been interning in the lab of Dr. Denise Whitby, chief of the viral oncology section, AIDS Vaccine Program, SAIC-Frederick, National Cancer Institute.

Ray, a senior at South Hagerstown High School, recently won first place in a regional high school science fair held in Frostburg. As a result, he has received an all-expense paid excursion to display his research at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, in Albuquerque, N.M., May 13-19. The event will host some 1,500 high school science students from all 50 states and 47 countries, territories and regions.

The award-winning science project entered by Ray, with which he bested some 200 other science students, reflects his work in Whitby’s lab, under the direct mentorship of Tom Parks. The research focuses on the establishment of a novel, cancer virus-hunting method that Ray had a major hand in developing.

The youth’s enthusiasm and desire to succeed in a scientific setting are more than apparent to his collaborators and mentors. “When Alex started with us last summer, his scientific knowledge was fairly rudimentary,” said Whitby. “But since then, I must say that I’ve really been stunned to witness just how much he has progressed in our lab, using sophisticated techniques and devising new tools to meticulously investigate cancer-causing viruses.”

Ray’s current slot in the NIH/NCI-Frederick Werner Kirsten High School Internship Program didn’t entirely evolve by happenstance. His grandmother, Beverly Jelks, was a secretary in the Office of the NIH Director working for Dr. Vida Beaven (who held top posts at NIH) years ago. And “my mother is an R.N., and she’s really been inspirational to me. We’ve always discussed various health topics and I’ve always liked science, so I guess those have been influential factors in my being where I am today,” Ray noted.

His associates like where he is today and what he is achieving. “Alex has an aptitude for everything that goes on in the lab. He’s been a great asset to us,” said Parks, who has been in Whitby’s lab since August 2001. “And his level of independence has been phenomenal. He really knows how to implement his knowledge of scientific methods into his work. We are indeed fortunate to have him with us.”

Ray’s level of interest and desire to succeed can apparently be matched only by his love of swimming. When not in the lab, he can often be seen practicing dives or doing the backstroke in his local pool, an activity he’s pursued since he was in first grade. “He goes from the lab right to the pool nearly every day,” noted Whitby.

While leaning towards Rutgers University, Ray has not decided yet where he’ll go to college next year, but plans on majoring in biochemistry.

Parks is optimistic about Ray’s future. “Alex can go anywhere he wants—both in college and in life. I’m sure he’s going to be a success,” he concluded. NIH Record Icon

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