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Soyeun Yang

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I Owe It All to Science

Posted: 09/10/2012 3:57 pm

Memories come and go, but I can promise that I will remember this past month forever. This July, I was one of 80 students from around the world who were part of the 44th Bessie Lawrence International Summer Science Institute at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

I had found out about the program through two of last year's participants, who I had met at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair several months earlier. It seemed just too good to be true; the International Summer Science Institute combined a serious research opportunity with travel in Israel, the topic of a book I was engrossed in at the time. After anxious months of waiting, I remember the moment I received my acceptance -- it was the soft 'ping' signaling an email that triggered a cascade of shrieks and euphoric phone calls. I was going to Weizmann.

Along with a student from Mexico, I worked in a biology lab that studied the role of protein signaling pathways in cancer development. Having only worked with nanoparticles and bacteria in the past, I was eager to do something new, and studying proteins was a refreshing challenge. As my lab partner and I pursued our research project, we also heard from distinguished scientists like Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath, who presented her research on ribosomal structure and told us about the personal challenges she overcame as she pursued her passion. I was surprised by how unassuming she was, and how, despite her success, she was like every scientist at Weizmann -- patiently seeking an explanation for her curiosity on behalf of the world and indirectly inspiring young scientists like us.

Despite the research element, the International Summer Science Institute was as much a cultural experience as it was a scientific one. Throughout the month, the participants talked about much more than science; after all, we were a diverse group, with students anywhere from 16 to 22 years old coming from different backgrounds and places. But being in Israel also meant learning about Israeli culture, and the diversity among the participants paralleled the diversity of people in the country. As we ate the food of the Jews, Arabs, Druse, and Bedouins, danced to their music, and learned their history and customs, we saw how culturally varied Israel was. But just as we were separate in origin but unified by science, these people were living in relative harmony as Israeli citizens. The people of Israel, perceived by the rest of the world as divided, were all inherently similar. Through the other participants and the sights we saw, my eyes were opened to how vast the world really was, yet how some things remain universal -- one of them being people and another being science.

As we conducted research and presented it to our peers, our expectations of ourselves and of each other were high. Yet the research process was always collaborative and never competitive at Weizmann, both among us and the researchers, and I think that's what struck me most: scientists all strive to make the next big discovery, with science as the uniting force. Through the International Summer Science Institute, I became more aware of science's potential to impact the world and bring it together, both physically and symbolically. The participants had convened initially due to our individual love of science, but we were now bound by our shared experiences. Science had connected me to Weizmann and surrounded me with those who were intellectually curious and driven. They were people who not only hoped to make an impact, but considered it a goal, if not an expectation, to contribute to their communities.

Coming back from an unforgettable month with incredible people, I wonder at how different I would have been without it. The surrealism of this opportunity only grows the longer I am home, for I still can't believe that I was in Israel, learning from a gifted scientist in one of the most renowned institutions in the world, with accomplished students from many different places. With each step of my scientific journey, my outlook on research had broadened, from the local to the national, and now, with Weizmann, the international. While science had connected me to Weizmann, Weizmann has connected me to the world, enabling me a novel perspective as I grew to understand the massive potential of our scientific aspirations.

My gratitude towards what science can do for students -- of what Weizmann did for me -- is immeasurable, for the Weizmann Institute of Science has shaped my goals into not only becoming a scientist but also becoming a global citizen. As I reflect on this whirlwind adventure, the emotions that I experienced in July still feel new: the warm support of the scientists, the shared inspiration and dedication of my peers, and the exhilarating feeling that I am part of something universal.

 
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