Summer 2009 Internship: NHLBI's Laboratory of Developmental Systems Biology, Bethesda, Maryland
Vital stats: Age 21, a rising senior studying applied mathematics at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University, New York City, New York.
Internship: Mr. Haimovich spent the summer of 2009 as a Recovery Act-funded intern in the NHLBI's Laboratory of Developmental Systems Biology to investigate muscle and heart development in the Drosophila (fruit fly) embryo.
An early start: Mr. Haimovich's mother, a cell biologist, and his father, an electrical engineer, exposed their children to science at a young age. "Mom used to bring home Eppendorf [small plastic] tubes and stuff like that for us to play with and I'd throw them at my brother," Mr. Haimovich recalled with a laugh. "She was always worried that I'd break her pipettes, so I never got to play with her cooler equipment."
By the ninth grade, Mr. Haimovich wanted to "play" with lab equipment in its native habitat: a laboratory. "I wanted to give lab work a shot because I like science. I was good at computers in more of a nerdy way rather than an intellectual way. And I liked biology. So I started in bioinformatics or computational biology. With the help of my mother, I was able to get in touch with a lab and work there every summer in high school... If I didn't have anyone willing to take me in this early, who knows where I would be... I've been very lucky."
Why interns matter: Alan M. Michelson, M.D., Ph.D., associate director for basic research, senior investigator and director of the Genetics and Developmental Biology Center at the NHLBI, said that he can't "overstate the importance of training young scientists at the earliest possible times." Dr. Michelson, a former summer lab intern at his undergraduate university, and members of his lab are providing mentorship to Mr. Haimovich. "There is a definite benefit to the laboratory of working with summer students, but the most important part of the summer internship program is that this is an opportunity for us to train the next generation of scientists. They have great interest in working in a lab and they are highly motivated to come to the NIH. Then our job is to really engage them and take them to next level of actually doing original research in order to further their career path in biomedical science."
Earning a place at the bench: "Adrian was a particularly attractive candidate not just because of his background and how well he had done in his undergraduate courses," said Dr. Michelson, "but also because he has expertise in computational biology - quantitative approaches to understanding biological systems."
Mutual benefits: As the laboratory benefits from Mr. Haimovich's expertise in computational biology, Dr. Michelson said he and other laboratory staff are mentoring the intern and providing career and school guidance. Mr. Haimovich's past experience allowed him to "jump on the learning curve at a remarkably high level and progress from there," said Dr. Michelson.
Why NIH? "What is unique about this NIH internship and Dr. Michelson's lab in particular is how they merge the computational and biological aspects of the projects," said Mr. Haimovich. "Not only do they come up with computational hypotheses, but they're also able to test them in vivo in their biological systems. That's a very unique situation to be in, and I'm very excited to come here and be part of that."
'A beautiful way to think': During his internship, Mr. Haimovich examined "what tells a cell to become part of a heart, what the signaling is, what the transcriptional regulation is... the large developmental questions." He added, "This approach is the idea of systems, where everything works together and there's a complex network of activities happening. I think that is a very beautiful way to think about the science, and it's one of the better angles or perspectives that we have going for us these days."
A typical day at the lab: Every other day, Mr.Haimovich starts lab work at 7 a.m. so he can send the cells up to the flow cytometry facility where several thousand particles are analyzed every second, by 9 a.m. "We do experiments for most of the morning, and in the afternoon I move on to the computational issues," said Mr. Haimovich. "I look at data that's collected before I even got here and try to analyze this data in a new way and put it to a new, good use."
Future predictions? "Before coming to the NIH, I primarily did computational work, which means you think about algorithms and analyze data that other people have published. You're basically the second line of analysis. What I realized coming here is that you can do both, the computational and the wet lab work under one roof. And the interaction between those two different domains has the potential to really push your science forward. I don't know if I would have come to that perspective if I hadn't come to work at the NHLBI." After he graduates from Columbia, Mr. Haimovich hopes to earn a M.D. and Ph.D. so he can "do basic science and clinical work - making sure basic science is helping clinical aspects and that clinical work informs basic science."
If you could train a celebrity to do what you are doing, who would it be and why? "I'm a big soccer fan. I play whenever I can. I would probably pick, and some of your readers might hate this... [soccer player] David Beckham. Not because I think he's the most glorious thing that has ever happened to soccer... but if he could bring some of the publicity to science that he's brought to soccer, that would be great. I'd love for some people to be out there saying science is really cool. Science is certainly one of the things that carries humanity forward."
By Sheila Walsh