Yale neurobiologists inspire award-winning high school student
Spending time in the lab with Yale neurobiologists Amy Arnsten, Ralph DiLeone, and Benjamin Land inspired a Westport youth to study brain disorders as a high school science project.
The project has earned John Solder, a senior at Staples High School, a slot as one of six finalists for the highest award in high school science — first prize in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, to be held Dec. 2-5 in Washington, D.C.
Solder spent the summer after his sophomore year and part of his junior year of high school in the laboratory of Arnsten, professor of neurobiology and psychology and a member of the Kavli Institute of Neuroscience at Yale.
“It was a life-changing experience to have the opportunity to learn about molecular neuroscience research on the prefrontal cortex from a world expert,” Solder says.
With the help of DiLeone, associate professor of psychiatry and neurobiology, and Land, a postdoctoral fellow, Solder began working this spring on the project, which is based on the principals of optogenetics — or the use of light to influence the behavior of brain cells.
He hopes that harnessing the ability of light at specific wavelengths to turn genetically modified neurons on or off will help people suffering from traumatic brain injuries, as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
“John not only has the smarts but an unusual amount of perspective for such a young scientist,” says DiLeone. “I anticipate some big things from John and can imagine him contributing to discoveries that cross traditional scientific boundaries.”
A panel of judges from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology named Solder as winner of the regional final, making him eligible to compete for the top prize of $100,000.