March 31, 2016

2012 SCA Seaborg Science Scholar Report – Dawn Comstock

Reflections on the Glenn T. Seaborg Award and the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar

By Dawn Comstock, Gustavus Adolphus Class of 2013Comstock photo with male participants
2012 SCA Glenn T. Seaborg Science Award recipient

Background:

Whenever I tell people that I’m a double major in Scandinavian Studies and Biology the standard response is “What do you want to do with that?” I usually say that I want to be a Swedish biologist. In reality, being a double major was a way for me to keep Swedish, a language I started learning when I was 10 years old, a part of my life. Swedish was what drew me to Gustavus Adolphus College where I quickly found my passion for scientific research. This last fall I had the opportunity to attend the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar (SIYSS) and the Nobel Prize festivities. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and I am incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to take part.

The Stockholm International Youth Science seminar, which began in 1976, brings together 25 young scientists from across the globe (16 different countries were represented this year) for eight days of exciting events. We became friends and enjoyed learning from each other. We share our research projects, our cultures and our dreams. I have no doubt in my mind that each one of the brilliant young scientists I met will have an incredible impact on the future of science.

Day 1. December 4th Arrival Day

We were greeted at the airport by the wonderful event planners from Förbundet Unga Forskare. Five of us students took a taxi to Auf Chapman, our home for the next week. That evening we had dinner and walked around Stockholm. It was amazing to learn about everyone’s cultures and lives. I shared a room with girls from England, South Korea, Israel and Denmark.

Day 2. December 5th Comstock photo with limo

We awoke to one of the most severe blizzards to hit Stockholm in 30 years, which really put a damper on the planned sightseeing tour. A Stockholm historian lectured on the history of the city and then we went on a tour of the Nobel Museum.

The evening consisted of presentations by students from each country. Many of the students brought small trinkets or candy from their home countries to try, I acquired a keychain from Singapore, Japanese bookmark, Australian coin, and a dreidel from Israel!

Day 3. December 6th

We spent the morning listening to lectures at Karolinska Institutet regarding iPS cells and toured a laboratory that Comstock photo with Nobel Laureate Kobilkastudies this technology. It was really interesting to see firsthand the technology that won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. We had brunch with researchers from KI and were fortunate to spend an hour with Göran K. Hansson, Secretary-General who is the director of the Nobel Office and the Medical Nobel Institute, and the spokesperson for the Nobel Assembly, the Nobel Committee and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He discussed how the prizes are selected and highlighted some of the more interesting developments in the history of the Prize.

That afternoon we attended a press conference with Dr. Yamanaka and Sir Gurdon. It was remarkable to be able to hear the Laureates speak to the press and media from across the globe. I even had the opportunity to ask a question!

Day 4. December 7th

We were also able to share our research with Swedish gymnasium (high school) students at a seminar day. Links to the videos from the seminars are available at http://www.ur.se/Produkter/174601-UR-Samtiden-Unga-forskare-forelaser?q=unga%20forskare

Following our seminar presentations we had the opportunity to hear the literature lecture by the Laureate Mo Yan. The lecture was given in Chinese.

Day 5. December 8th

We woke up early to travel to Stockholm University where we attended the lectures at Aula Magna where we had the opportunity to listen to the Nobel Laureate lectures in Chemistry, Physics and Economics. It was incredible to be in a packed lecture hall and to hear some of the world’s most renowned scientists lecture about their topics.

That afternoon three of the SIYSS organizers, Angela, the other student from the U.S., and I went to the United States Ambassadors residence where they hosted a small reception for the Laureates from the U.S. both past and present. I Comstock photo in US Embassymet many of the laureates, but I was especially excited to meet Dr. Kobilka, the 2012 Laureate in Chemistry. Dr. Kobilka grew up in Little Falls, Minnesota. Being a native Minnesotan I felt incredible pride that someone from our state had won the Nobel Prize, and I enjoyed having a conversation with him about what a young scientist needs to be successful in the future.

Following the lovely reception we reunited with the other students for a true Swedish tradition of having a julbord. This meal was incredible with all the Swedish staples of sill, köttbullar, and potatisar. We even had a vist from Lucia.

Day 6. December 9th

One of the highlights of the week was attending the Nobel Week Dialogue, “The Genetic Revolution and its Impact on Society.” As I am particularly interested in genetics research, this was a very memorable day. I was able to listen to Dr. James Watson, Dr. Eric Lander, and Dr. Steven Chu, among others, celebrities in the science community.

That evening we attended the Nobel Foundation Reception at the Nordiska Museet. While at the reception I was able to meet several of the Nobel Laureates and members of the Svenska Akademien and Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien. After the reception a small group of us went to the Grand Hotel where we met Dr. Watson in person.

Day 7. December 10th

The day of the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony was a whirlwind. We all were dressed in our gowns or tails by 1:00 pm and had lunch before getting into limousines that drove us around Stockholm before arriving at the Concert Hall for the Award Ceremony. The air was buzzing with excitement and electricity. After taking our seats in the balcony we Comstock photo with fellow student at KTHanxiously awaited the Ceremony. There are few words that can adequately describe the feelings that one experiences being surrounded by the pomp and circumstance, and recognizing how incredibly fortunate to be able to attend such an event. The first time the fanfare is played after one of Laureates receives their Prize is one of those moments I will never forget.

Following the Prize Ceremony, we all boarded busses and travelled to the City Hall for the Nobel Banquet. The Nobel Banquet was surreal. The food, entertainment and environment were like nothing I have ever experienced before. It made for an evening that could only be described as magical.

The Nobel Night Cap hosted at KTH lasted until 5:00 am. We sang and danced the night away. It was a perfect ending to a once in a lifetime trip.

Conclusions:

This experience would not have been possible were it not for The Glenn T. Seaborg Award and The Swedish Council of America, to whom I am incredibly grateful.

I feel grateful to have had so many wonderful mentors who have helped me along the way. I would like to specifically Comstock photo in Stockholm City Hallthank Alisa Rosenthal in the Gustavus Fellowship Office. My mentors in Scandinavian Studies: former Professor Karlsson, Professor Emeritus Thorstensson, and Professor Moody. Last but not least, the talented scientists who have given me the opportunities to discover my passion for research: Dr. Kimberly Murphy, Dr. Sanjive Qazi, Dr. Amy Leval, and Dr. Lynn Goldin.

Additionally, I would like to thank the SIYSS organizers from Förbundet Unga Forskare, and Lars Heikensten for allowing the SIYSS participants to attend many of the Nobel events.

Future Plans:

Following graduation, I will begin researching at the National Institutes of Health through the Post Baccalaureate IRTA program. I will be working in the Laboratory of Systems Biology at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. My experience at the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar left me feeling inspired about science and it is truly a week I will never forget.