Ranney School junior Varun Sikand of Colts Neck participated in a unique research internship studying DNA sequences at Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute this past summer. The results of his research have been published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s (NCBI) GenBank, and he is on his way to growing a name for himself among genomic experts. The Waksman Institute Summer Scholars program provides opportunities for high school students and their teachers to conduct authentic research in molecular biology and bioinformatics and publish their findings. Only 35 students were selected to participate in the 2016 program from the tristate area.
Varun’s project focused on the isolation, characterization, and DNA sequence analysis of genes from the duckweed Landoltia punctata. After successfully isolating the DNA fragment, he was able to analyze the sequences using lab protocols and bioinformatics tools, many of which are taught at the graduate level. He was one of only a few students who had all four of their sequences published in the database. “After completing this program, I have a greater appreciation and understanding of the multiple steps and resources, along with scientific partnership, involved in molecular and genetic research,” said Varun. “I not only created new friendships with amazing students from different schools, I appreciated how collaborative team work is so vital to scientific advancement.”
Varun has been interested in scientific research since his Lower School years at Ranney and as a member of the Middle School Science Olympiad team. “I was fortunate to have Mr. Tom Allen as my Science Olympiad mentor. To this day, he continues to inspire and solidify my passion for genetics. In Upper School, I have been under the guidance of my knowledgeable and amazing AP chemistry teacher, Dr. Alison Distefano, a passionate scientist who has taught me to maximize my potential and to think ‘out of the box’ with scientific reasoning. I am fortunate to have science faculty who are enthusiastic about their field and continue to selflessly inspire their students.”