Every year, dozens of rural high school students from all over Wisconsin converge on the UW-Madison campus for a hands-on scientific research experience.

Northland College alumnus Scott Canfield ’06, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow in the Shusta and Palecek Laboratories at UW-Madison, serves as program faculty, inspiring the students to see awesome science and engineering research—and that it’s all within their reach.

“The ability to give back to students who are coming from a very similar background that I had is very rewarding,” says Canfield. “I really enjoy the opportunity to talk to students who are coming from these small schools and explain my journey from a small high school to a small college to graduate school and now to a post doctoral fellow in chemical and biological engineering.”

Canfield’s workshop is based on differentiating cardiac myocytes (heart cells) from pluripotent stem cells. He and the students add varying pharmaceuticals and monitor the contraction rates of the myocytes in the dish.

“Whenever you are working with biological samples there is some degree of uncertainty whether or not the cells will perform the way we expect them to,” he says, “so there is a bit of pressure that the experiment will work.”

Working with high school students for three summers has helped Canfield with his own research: further understanding the blood-brain barrier, the cellular barrier that maintains a metabolic, and physical barrier between the blood and the brain.

“Observing their interest, passion, and excitement really motivates me in the lab and gives me a reminder that what I am doing is exciting.”


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