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High School Researcher

February 21, 2012, 10:07 PM by Nicole Winters

High School Researcher
SIOUX FALLS, SD - While there are many extremely intelligent high school students, it takes a special student to be able to take on high school, college and an intense internship all at the same time.

One Sioux Falls senior is doing just that. She's not only excelling in her education, but she's also getting a jump in a possible future career by working alongside a Sanford researcher.

The human body and its system is a fascination for Beth Farnsworth.

"We're learning every part of the brain and we're going to learn all of the guts and spinal cord," Farnsworth said.

The high school senior is learning all she can from a specialized BioMed class at CTE.

"We focus on the anatomy of the body just like traditional anatomy class will, but then try to tie in more of the functions and more on what can go wrong with the human body so that we can eventually one day work to fix some of those problems," teacher Allison Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson teaches some of the BioMed classes. There's four levels to the program. But the school has only been in existence for two years, stopping Farnsworth from reaching the highest level, which would allow her to work alongside an area researcher.

"She approached me, actually, and said, 'I'm a senior. I know I can't take the next class. Is there anyway I could have that experience before I leave high school?'" Hutchinson said.

Farnsworth, being an exceptional student taking both high school and college classes, was allowed to take on a position interning alongside Dr. Haotian Zhao in the Sanford Research Center.

"Beth is helping me do a little project. She's generating some twos for the lab. The one she's working on is generating DNA-size standard to figure out the size of a piece of DNA," Zhao said.

"Gel electrophoresis, where you kind of see DNA fingerprinting, there's always a first column like a ruler of what each size is. So you're going to have the first column, which has one, two or three depending on if they're hetero or homo. So that first column is a DNA standard marker column, so that's what I'm making so I have to make each band separately. Then at the end, I'll put it all together," Farnsworth said.

It's a more complicated process than simple school work, but Farnsworth seems to understand it just fine.

"DNA fingerprinting, even parental tests, it's how you tell, like, would we be related. Or is my mother and I related? You need to have something to measure it on and how long the piece is," Farnsworth said.

Farnsworth collaborates with Zhao, a first for her working with a researcher and a first for him working with a high school student.

"In my impression, Beth is more mature. I don't have any difficulties communicating with her what I want," Zhao said.

Farnsworth works in the lab four days a week. Right now, she's learning about DNA, but in the future, she may even learn about brain cancer.

"My research is primarily involved in brain cancer research in pediatric patients. Beth hasn't touched that part yet, but in the future, she's going to be exposed to that," Zhao said.

It's experience many don't see until grad school.

"When I read her blog every week about all the things she's doing and how it ties to the greater picture of science and research, it's just really exciting to see," Hutchinson said.

Farnsworth is hoping her early start in science will help her reach her goals, which includes earning a doctorate and a medical degree.

"I love to work with special needs. So, if I can help that, not necessarily cure it, but help prevent some of the symptoms, help progression of the diseases that's my dream," Farnsworth said.

And while not everyone as young as Farnsworth is ready to jump into a lab, Zhao says it's critical to the future of science and medicine that those who have the motivation and focus give it a shot.

"We're hoping young people will get interested in our field of research and keep this thing going strong, especially in Sioux Falls," Zhao said.

Farnsworth says she has family and friends with disabilities and illnesses. That, too, has made her interested in science and medicine and has given her the motivation to keep learning.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
A grammatical error was corrected in this story.

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