After their guest speaker wrapped his presentation Thursday, Bladensburg High School seniors flocked to the bottom of the auditorium stage requesting pictures, autographs and advice on how to achieve a similar career path.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, might not be a rock star or “American Idol,” but to the 165 students in the school’s biomedical program, Collins had celebrity status. Collins’ DNA-theme take on Del Shannon’s classic “Runaway,” complete with guitar solo, didn’t hurt either.
“I was really excited because I’ve read books on him, seen him on TV and watched videos on him, so when I met him in person I was kind of star-struck,” said senior Nishanth Moses, 18, of Riverdale.
Bladensburg’s biomedical program started in 2005 and helps prepare students for health and science careers.
“I got interested in science in 10th grade chemistry,” Collins said. “My teacher helped me understand science was about solving mysteries.”
Collins was at the school as part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s Nifty Fifty (times 2) Program, which is intended to help foster middle and high school students’ interest in science and engineering.
The program also serves as a precursor to the second annual festival itself, which will be held April 28 to April 29 at the Washington Convention Center, and includes 2,000 interactive activities and 200 live performances by guests such as Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters,” Bill Nye the Science Guy and cast members from the CBS series “The Big Bang Theory.”
Collins, responsible for leading the Human Genome Project that discovered disease genes, shared how DNA research could cure blindness and identify health risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Collins said he has spoken at high schools and enjoys talking to students interested in science.
During his presentation, he showed a slideshow of various technology “cool tools” such as a sensor implant — a wristwatch-like device which reads a small sensor at a person’s wrist so diabetes patients can gauge their blood sugar without having to prick their finger multiple times a day — as well as a stethoscope resembling a sonogram that doctors and patients could use to see a person’s heart beating.
“It was really cool and exciting to see him as we’ve done research on him,” said senior Daniel Nwosu, 18, of Cheverly. “I thought he’d be a bit more uptight, but he’s not at all and was very good at breaking down his findings.”
Nwosu said he has been accepted to the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York where he plans to major in engineering to devise ways to further utilize solar panels to take back to his native Lagos, Nigeria.
“When I was growing up sometimes we didn’t have electricity because there wasn’t enough to power the whole city so we might have it for 18 to 20 hours a day,” Nwosu said. “That inspired me to help people who may not have electricity 24-hours a day.”
Aisha Mahoney, one of the school’s assistant principals, said Collins’ visit provides an excellent connection to what they’ve studied in class and how it could apply in the real world.
Bladensburg Mayor Walter James presented Collins with a certificate of appreciation on behalf of the town as well as a Bladensburg pin.
“It was an honor and a pleasure having Dr. Collins here,” said senior Jessica Gliss, 17, of Bladensburg. “The information he gave was very much needed. It really aspires us to take DNA research to another level.”