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Program Allows High School Students to Get Training in Lab Skills, Neuroscience

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There are some young scientists doing some serious brain research this summer as part of a Columbia University program. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

A group of high school students are spending their summer studying rat brains on cocaine.

In a nearby lab, an about-to-be-10th grader is researching how the removal of different brain tissue impacts the brain's functioning.

"It has helped me to know that I want to become a neurosurgeon," said student Cheyenne Simpson.

It's rare for laboratories to take on high school students, not to mention actually letting them participate in real research, but Columbia University's Mind Brain Behavior Institute does just that through its Brain Research Apprenticeships, or BRAINYAC, program.

"I never thought I wanted to work with high school students before, but they're the most honest people," said Nancy Padilla, an instructor with the BRAINYAC program. "When they don't understand something, they just say it."

The students work closely with mentors who are able to help and explain things to them, and they come in with some preparation, spending Saturdays in the months leading up to the summer program getting training in basic lab skills and neuroscience.

This summer, the second year of the BRAINYAC program, participants come from 19 city high schools.

"They're like blank slates, and they don't really know much about being a scientist, and by the end of the program, they're like, 'I could be a scientist,'" Padilla said.

The lab is run by Noble Prize-winning neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel, who is a big supporter of the BRAINYAC program.

"It not only gives me personal gratification. I actually think this is wonderful for science," Kandel said. "I think we need a diversity of people moving into science. These are enormous problems and require a variety of different talents."

He said it's not just the high school students who benefit from the experience.

"It's invigorating to have young people in the lab," Kandel said. "I'm 84 years old. I don't feel 84."

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