Scientific Breakthrough: Chaminade Senior Selected for Cold Spring Harbor Lab Research Program

By Michael Tsui ’18

The Partners for the Future (PFF) program, offered by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, is an exceptional research opportunity for students entering their senior year of high school.  Created by Dr. James Watson, one of the two men who discovered the structure of DNA, PFF allows young scientists with a passion for biology and genetics to perform research in a cutting-edge lab.  Each year, roughly seventeen lucky students are selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants to work alongside researchers at the lab.  Chaminade senior Alexander Oruci has earned the opportunity to partake in this prestigious program during this new school year.  

Alex, who has always had a passion for science, began to research various topics in middle school.  He completed a long-term research project on mice to see how their memory and cognitive function were affected by caffeine.  He went on to display his findings at the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair during his freshman year.  “This was a long and very involved series of experiments; however, it was this experience that led me to love science even more,” explained Alex.  He not only won first place in the fair but also received a prize from the nationwide Naval High School Science Awards Program.  

Senior Alex Oruci (r.) poses with his mentor Dr. Rowan Herridge upon being accepted into the Partners for the Future program.
Senior Alex Oruci (r.) poses with his mentor Dr. Rowan Herridge upon being accepted into the Partners for the Future program.

The vigorous PFF application process began in the spring of junior year with a nomination from Chaminade’s Science Department Chair, Bro. Benjamin Knapp, S.M. ’93. “Partners for the Future is one of the most prestigious high school internship programs on the east coast,” said Bro. Ben.  “Since hundreds of high school students apply to it annually, this is a huge opportunity for Alex.  Not only is he interning, he is really partnering with his mentor.  The lab specifically uses that term — partnering.”

In addition to the nomination from Bro. Ben, Alex was required to submit his high school science grades and write an essay explaining why he wanted to be part of the prestigious program.  In his essay, he spoke about his grandfather, an immigrant who worked his way to become a doctor.  His grandfather’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease greatly influenced Alex’s desire to continue pursuing opportunities in science research.

After he was selected as a semi-finalist, the next step of the application process was perhaps the most difficult.  Twenty-four students were interviewed by the scientists looking for new seniors to mentor.  One of these scientists, Dr. Rowan Herridge, was especially impressed by Alex and his experiment with mice, which he also found to be “amusing.”  Alex was selected by the postdoctoral researcher to work in his lab studying plant genetics.

Alex reflected on his decision to participate in the program, saying, “I have always wanted to conduct research in a lab, especially one as prestigious as this, so I decided to apply here.  This lab focuses on very important topics such as genetics and, more recently, pancreatic cancer research, and it is also where several Nobel Prize winning scientists worked, including Barbara McClintock.”  Barbara McClintock performed a great deal of research in cytogenetics and is credited with the discovery that certain DNA fragments can be activated to move from one position on a chromosome to another.  Alex, who wants to be a doctor, plans to major in biochemistry or neuroscience in college.     

During this school year, Alex will spend ten hours a week conducting graduate-level research with Dr. Herridge in the Martienssen Lab.  The partners are currently studying new techniques of identifying Pseudouridine, a nucleoside found in RNA.  Alex’s current role in the project is to cross Arabidopsis plant specimens and observe how certain changes to their genetic sequences affect the way the offspring looks.  At the end of the program, he will present his discoveries to the Cold Spring Harbor Lab mentors and administrators.  The sky’s the limit for this Flyer who has already begun to distinguish himself within the scientific community.

Congratulations Alex best of luck with your research.