Justin Wu is a rising senior at MacArthur High School. But he can already add “medical researcher” to his resume as he is spending six weeks of his summer break researching possible osteoarthritis treatments. Wu is garnering once-in-a-lifetime experiences and inching toward his career goals as a participant in the University of Florida Student Science Training Program.

Through this summer research institute, participants from across the country are paired with a mentor and assigned a professor’s lab to work on an individual research project – based on an essay submitted in the application process. 

“In our project, we’re working with nanoparticles, specifically manganese dioxide, trying to see if those particles could affect the cartilage enough so the cartilage can regenerate,” he says. “Since my project deals with very small particles, I have done a lot of micro pipetting, centrifuging and measuring. I have even done some cow leg dissections! My mentor and I cut different sections of the cartilage in the knee – on the femur, fibula and tibula – as well as the menisci to measure the consistency of the cartilage. It’s pretty interesting stuff. By the way, cow legs smell a lot more than I thought!”

Although the bulk of the summer program is research time in the lab, the experience also includes general sessions, lectures and seminars on a variety of topics including genetics, biology, physics and other STEM categories, as well as hearing from other professors talk about their projects. 

In addition to the academic experience through research, the program is also providing Wu and other participants the opportunity to experience what college life is like.

“I am living in the dorms with three other guys – one from Florida, one from New Jersey and one from California,” he says. “Surprisingly, we keep our dorm room relatively clean, considering four teenage boys live there. We have to cook for ourselves, which can be challenging at times, but it has been one of the best experiences of this program. We were able to cook hamburgers and fried rice, which were pretty good in my opinion. Taking the wrong buses, overcooking pizza, and getting lost on a real university campus are all experiences that I will never forget.”

Most importantly, these experiences are one step closer to his goals of becoming a doctor.

“With these programs, you get a really unique experience that you would not find anywhere else,” he says. “You’re together with like-minded students and helpful mentors. It’s important, especially if you want to go into the STEM field or the medical field, to get these experiences to know what research is like – and know what dead cow legs look like.”

To learn more about the University of Florida’s Student Science Training Program, click here.