Papillion teen enjoys summer research opportunity

Papillion teen enjoys summer research opportunity

Test tubes full of bubbling liquids perched over Bunsen burners and strange chemicals with foreign names.

That’s what Marcus McKenzie envisioned a research laboratory would look like.

Much to his surprise the recent high school graduate found quite a different environment during the eight weeks he spent working in the lab of Matt Kelso, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy.

There McKenzie found common household cleaning agents, such as bleach and baking powder sitting on shelves in the brightly lit, well-kept lab.

“It’s really a quiet environment with many people working together with the primary investigator on his research,” said McKenzie, who graduated in May from Papillion LaVista South High School and the UNMC High School Alliance Program.

The UNMC High School Alliance is designed to give high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to take college-level courses in preparation for careers in health care. The students spend one academic year at the medical center where they take courses taught by UNMC faculty.

Through the High School Alliance, McKenzie was nominated to participate in the American Chemical Society’s Project SEED summer program. This program provides a $2,500 fellowship to economically disadvantaged students to participate in summer research at an academic, government or industrial laboratory.

He relished the opportunity to work in Dr. Kelso’s lab where the research focuses on finding better ways to treat traumatic brain injuries. While there, McKenzie was responsible for culturing rat brain neurons in petri dishes and keeping them alive.

The experience, he said, was invaluable.

“It gave me a different perspective on the health sciences, taught me to be more responsible and provided me the opportunity to learn new lab techniques and the inner workings of a research lab,” he said.

“Marcus has been a tremendous asset to my research program,” Dr. Kelso said. “From the first day, he has shown a genuine interest in the research, and I am amazed at the questions that he asks. He has since mastered many of our techniques and has generated data on his own. He would be welcomed back into my lab anytime.”

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu.


Lisa Spellman
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-4353