Internship nurtures interest in research
By KEVIN CALLAHAN • Courier-Post Staff • August 21, 2008
Benjamin Nixon figured the field in science he wanted to work in once he graduated from Rowan University would require plenty of time in the laboratory.
The Palmyra High School graduate learned what he suspected -- and wants -- for sure during a summer internship at Baylor College of Medicine.
"It required a lot of time in the lab," Nixon said about his days spent at the renowned Houston facility. "One day I got in at five in the morning and didn't leave until nine that night, so I know pretty much what I'm getting into."
Nixon spent two months in the lab researching liver disease. Nixon, who is entering his senior year at Rowan, is a biochemistry major.
"I didn't know much about Baylor, but it is the largest medical center in the world, which is appealing to someone who wants to do medical research," Nixon said.
Nixon, 21, worked at examining a disease that affects the liver -- cholestasis.
Cholestasis results in the reduction or stoppage of bile acid flow, which results in various complications.
Nixon specifically looked at a protein that is believed to be responsible for regulating bile acid flow during injury, infection or inflammation of the liver.
Nixon said by treating cancerous liver cells with inflammatory compounds, he was able to observe how the amount and location of the target protein (RXR alpha) varied in the liver cells.
Nixon attributes his interest in science to the biochemistry courses he took at Palmyra High with Gerald Biggs.
"In high school I was interested in accounting, but I had a chemistry course with Mr. Biggs and that had a big influence and his class made me want to switch to science," Nixon said.
He said he was encouraged to do an internship this summer by a college professor.
"I owe my experience at Baylor to my past biophysical chemistry professor, Dr. Darius Kuciauskus, as he heavily urged our class to participate in undergraduate research programs," Nixon said.
Said Kuciauskus on his inspiration: "We try. We are a small college so can work with every student."
Nixon also received a strong dose of medical background at home. His father, Roger, is an X-ray technician at Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mounty Holly. His mother, Elizabeth, was an X-ray technician and is a school teacher. His older sister, Carolyn, is a physician assistant in Manhattan.
"Ben is a good student and he is always trying to learn more and is always eager to do research," Kuciauskus said.
This year at Rowan, Nixon will be conducting research under Dr. Gregory Caputo. He plans on applying to graduate schools to pursue a Ph.D.
"I have a strong interest in cardiovascular," Nixon said about the biomedical research field he might be interested in working in. "What I will pursue full time, I'm not sure."
Nixon is sure why he wants to pursue medical research as a living -- in addition to enjoying the work, he wants to be able to help people, too.
"It definitely plays into why I want to pursue it as a medical career," Nixon said.
The techniques Nixon used this summer in the analysis were cell culturing, western blotting and chemiluminescent detection.
"What Ben is doing and other students are doing is they look at fundamentals and then apply that," Kuciauskus said. "We stress the molecules are the center of everything."
For all his work this summer, Nixon received a stipend of $4,000. He stayed at nearby Rice University and ate where he could find reasonable and tasty food.
"Houston is definitely a different experience than New Jersey," he said, laughing about the heat in central Texas. "The temperature aside, it was beautiful in Houston."
He swapped road trips and weekends down the shore for hot, humid Houston, but he managed.
"I had to sacrifice the normal things I did in the summer," he said. "I understood that and embraced it."
Nixon's experience as an intern is something he will promote to other Rowan students.
"I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in research," Nixon said.
And who doesn't mind long hours.
Reach Kevin Callahan at (856) 317-7821 or firstname.lastname@example.org.