Palmetto Senior High School can certainly lay claim to an impressive roster of alumni, from the current richest man on earth (Jeff Bezos) to the 19th Surgeon General of the United States (Vivek Murthy) and current student Michael Fein is well on his way to joining that impressive list. Fein was recently named one of only four students in the state (and the one student in Dade county) to become a top 300 Scholar in the 77th Regeneron Science Talent Search. We sat down with 17 year old senior to talk STEM, genetics and the possible $250,000 scholarship.
How did you hear about the competition and why did you decide to apply?
STS has always been in the back of my mind as a possible competition to apply for. Formerly known as Westinghouse STS, then Intel STS, and now Regeneron STS, it’s a competition that has been around for over 70 years. This year I decided to apply because after doing summer research this past summer I felt like I had a shot at winning something from STS. The application itself was extremely long but well worth it.
What has driven your passion for science?
I have always enjoyed learning about science and doing my own “experiments.” For the past eleven years I have competed in Odyssey of the Mind, an engineering and creative problem solving competition. It’s fueled my desire to tinker, to make things with my hands, and learn about different ways to solve problems from outside the box. After doing research the past two summers my passions have only increased.
Why do you think you were chosen and what does it mean to you to be honored in this way?
I spent a very long time editing and revising my paper, even after I first wrote it over the summer. I am very thankful for my awesome teachers at Palmetto (Ms. Schlactman, Dr. Sharp, and Dr. Edelman) who helped give me the background knowledge I needed for my project and helped me edit my paper. My paper, although perhaps not revolutionary, involved information in an unstudied field using new technologies not previously available. My paper focused on monoallelic gene expression, or the expression of only one of the two copies of each gene, as a result of imprinting, or parent-specific allele expression, and X inactivation, the expression of only one of the two X chromosomes in every cell of a female person. I studied this using something called Drop-Seq, a sequencing method that allows for the separation and sequencing of individual cells rather than just blended tissues. This award indicates the importance, both practically and academically, of my research as well as a reward for my efforts in applying to the competition. I am currently a semi-finalist, and on January 23 will receive notification of my finalist status. If I become one of the 40 finalists, I would receive a free trip to Washington, D.C. and the chance to win a $250,000 scholarship.
What areas of science are most exciting to you and why?
The areas of science most exciting to me are genetics and informatics. When used together, big data collections of genetic data could lead to new insights into the power of our genes and the inheritance of characteristics from parents. In the future, with the advent of gene editing, humanity may be able to eliminate diseases and even tweak the skill sets of people, perhaps speeding up our own evolution by our own hand. Most importantly, gene editing could be the key to curing diseases that occur from random mutations, like many cancers.
What is your advice to younger students who have an interest in STEM activities?
My advice to those interested in STEM is to find what specific branch most interests you and pursue any opportunity to learn more about it. If you like biology go out and find biologists or doctors to talk to. Find ways to shadow people who have a career you may be interested in. Ask around and do not be afraid to send emails to people asking for volunteer or shadowing opportunities, the worst they can say is no.