Greeshma Somashekar

GreeshmaGreeshma Somashekar is an eighteen year old senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) in Durham, NC. Her research was conducted with the Matrix Biology Group, headed by Dr. Stavros Garantziotis, at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Working over the course of two summers, she aimed to determine the effect of a protein inhibitor, inter-alpha-trypsin inhibitor heavy chain 4, on the inflammatory response to lung injury. Greeshma is part of the Research in Chemistry program at NCSSM and some of her previous research projects include: 1) an individual assessment of the toxicity of Ag nanoparticles; 2) a team effort to develop and market an Android-based medical alert system. When she’s not in the lab, Greeshma runs cross country and serves as a Student Ambassador. She’s also a fan of science fiction, college basketball, chocolate covered apples, and new experiences!


Inter-alpha-trypsin inhibitor heavy chain 4: functional effects on the inflammatory response to lung injury

ITIH4, a serum protein, has been shown to have elevated concentrations in patients with diseases such as early stage ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Recent studies have therefore identified ITIH4 as a potential biomarker for these diseases. The goal of this study is to better understand the role of ITIH4 as a biomarker and specifically, how it affects the immune response to lung injury.

Wild type mice (ITIH4+/+) and ITIH4 knockout (ITIH4-/-) mice were exposed to lipopolysaccharide, an endotoxin used to induce inflammation in the lungs. Based on immunohistochemistry, we found that ITIH4 is expressed in the lung in bronchial epithelia and in alveolar macrophages and neutrophils. Tissue injury levels, cytokine and cell counts, and cell migration data were analyzed. These indicate that ITIH4 slows the migration of inflammatory cells to the site of an infection. Results suggest that ITIH4 is a biomarker of containment: it serves to localize the immune response to an infection. This information adds to the growing body of knowledge about ITIH4 and may also allow physicians to learn more about the unique immune response in an individual based on the concentration of ITIH4 present.


March 27, 2012

I’ve already watched Forrest Gump and tried to catch up on Polymer Chemistry work. We’re on the plane from Beijing to Newark, about to cross over the North Pole. This morning, we spent an hour or so at Pearl Street, and then drove to the airport. It was really hard saying goodbye to Irene, Alan, and Ted. We’ve become pretty close and a week has gone by so fast! There were hugs all around, yet again. We promised to keep in touch and wished Ted good luck with his business school application. He is applying to Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and may be visiting Durham in a few months! I’d love to see him again.

I’ve learned a lot during my week in China, but I think I have gained the most from the many friendships I have made – with both Chinese students and kids from foreign delegations.

March 26, 2012

We rose bright and early to drive to the Great Wall of China. We set off with Irene and a few of the Australian kids – Henry, Jacinta, and Tom – determined to make it to the fifth tower, which marks the highest point in our section of the wall. The views from each consecutive tower were increasingly breathtaking. All students admitted to MIT are challenged to take a picture with the ‘MIT Tube’ (contains all admissions material) in a crazy location. What better place than the Great Wall? Ivan, Vipul, and I all took pictures with the tube. We were joined at the highest tower by the kids from almost every other delegation and we took a few group pictures. The steps were steep and worn…and we ran into all types of people climbing with the hopes of reaching the top. One woman was climbing with a baby who couldn’t be more than a few months old. There were a few marathon runners racing to the finish, a group of barefoot tourists, and several elderly Chinese visitors. There were so many climbers helping others out. It was nice to see.

In the afternoon, we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Again, these areas were filled with tourists from all over the world. The city was beautiful; the emperors truly did live the high life! It was another chance to get to know the students from other delegations as we walked around. I spent much of the day speaking with Irene and learning a few phrases in Chinese. At Silk Street in the evening, I bought a bunch of silk (go figure!) scarves as gifts for friends and family. Shopping was probably the most interesting event of the day. Silk Street consists of several floors of shops, all neatly organized into blocks. Foreigners tend to bargain with the shopkeepers. Some of the translators decided to opt out of helping with bargaining. One noted that it is important for foreigners and the shopkeepers to understand one another.

It’s hard to believe that this is our last full day in Beijing. Alan is so talented. He made each of us a custom scroll with Chinese calligraphy. I asked him to make one for my sister; it is a small poem blessing her with good health.

We spent the last few hours at a goodbye party with the other delegations. Food, drinks, card games, and charades. We introduced many to the game of Mafia, which people really seemed to like. Unfortunately, by the time we finished playing our first game of mafia, the hotel staff reminded us for the third time that we should retire to our rooms for the night. Hugging and rather sad exchanges ensued, and everyone promised to keep in touch. I’m really going to miss our new friends, especially since I may not see many of them again in the near future. We decided to share all of our pictures via Tumblr, which is one of the few social networking/blogging sites that is not blocked by the Great Firewall of China…can’t wait to browse through them!

March 25, 2012

The four of us won 1st place awards at the closing ceremony this morning. All students from international delegations received either 1st or 2nd place, which was interesting, and nice. It was fun to watch many the Chinese students receive their awards; this is quite obviously a very big deal for them and we recognized several of our friends on stage: Scarlet, my friend with the robot, another student who had asked for help on English homework, etc. I was proud to see them do so well. We took down our posters afterwards and said our goodbyes.

In the afternoon, we switched from formalwear to tourist gear and hit the road. It was an hour long bus ride to and from the Summer Palace, and most of the kids and adults promptly fell asleep. I told myself I would stay awake and look out the window, but I was out cold in just a few minutes. We arrived at the palace pretty well rested; I had stocked up on water bottles and camera batteries and was ready to go. We walked around the palace grounds and took pictures in front of the shops and several scenic areas; there was an excellent view of the city across the lake.

We returned to the hotel for dinner and then retreated to Floor 13 – dubbed the ‘party floor’ by our Australian friends. Bring on the food and games! I was a tiger, then a shark, then a monkey, and then an emu in an Australian version of what my friends at NCSSM call big booty-big booty. This was followed by a rather odd game in which we walked around and had conversations with others without showing our teeth. The merriment commenced with teams competing against each other in a series of quizzes. My team – the ‘FOUR real team’ – ended up winning the game, and we were treated to delicious Italian chocolate…which was shared with all the other players, of course. I’m glad we got a chance to hang out with members of other delegations like the Italian kids and the students from South Africa. What a fun night.


March 24, 2012

The public was invited to visit the BYSCC (Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition) this morning. I talked to a 2nd grade class for a while and noticed that most visitors, even if they could not converse in English, simply wanted to take a picture with the American students. I found myself posing in front of the American flag again and again. I also walked around and picked up abstracts from many of the Chinese students’ projects.

I had the chance to sit down and talk to Irene for a long time about her childhood in China and her opinions about the Chinese education system. Hearing about school in a foreign country from an individual’s perspective is so different from what you learn by watching a documentary or reading a book.

In the afternoon, Alyssa, Vipul, Ivan, and I went out with the Australian group from Perth Modern. We got to know Jacinta, Tori, Alastor, and Henry as well as two of their teachers – Ant Meschez and Mrs. Biddle. Initially, the plan was to return to the hotel to change into casual clothing, but we ended up going to a famous part of town. We strolled through a market teeming with vendors selling everything from broken ‘jade’ pieces to spicy peanuts. Lunch was marvelous. We ate at a small restaurant in an alleyway adjacent to a street that actually led to the southern gate of Beijing city. There were three vegetarians present and plenty of food for everyone. Being a lover of the hot stuff, I especially enjoyed the hot and sour noodles and the egg dumplings.

We returned to Yucai school for dinner, which was followed by an evening show. It was, once again, a grand occasion – with many performances by primary school students (Chinese yo-yo, marching band, traditional dances, etc). Each foreign delegation also performed. The Australians sang, the Italians played guitar, the students from Denmark talked about the summer solstice. We danced to Cotton Eye Joe and invited the audience to join us on stage. The Australians and many of our Chinese friends came up to dance, and it was pretty fun. The final performance by a foreign delegation was by the South Africans, who did a tribal dance that was by far the most entertaining. I learned a bit on Zulu on the bus ride back to the hotel.


March 23, 2012

We spent most of the morning today presenting to judges. Four of our judges were from Beijing, another was Australian, and our final judge was Dr. Nolan.

In the afternoon, we spoke to several other students participating in the competition. We took lots of pictures with kids from the other delegations. A 10th grader named Scarlet told us that she picked her western name after reading ‘Gone with the Wind’, which just happens to be one of my favorite books. Scarlet is witty and kept making fun of Ivan for looking like Harry Potter. I liked her a lot and we exchanged email addresses. All four of us went upstairs to look at her project and she gave us little dragon statues as gifts. Most of the Chinese students we talked to mentioned that they want to come to the United States at some point to study. They seem in awe of American universities and education.

The Chinese students also seemed really in touch with American pop culture. Many of them listen to Katy Perry, Lil Wayne, Taylor Swift, and Chris Brown. My friend from yesterday brought over his iPad to share music with us. Boy was I surprised when he started playing Rack City and Like a G6. He knew all the lyrics and sang along too!

The opening ceremony was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was like American Idol, but for science. Flashing lights, paparazzi, reporters everywhere…the Chinese really do treat their young scientists like rock stars. Each of the audience members was given a plastic clapper, which collectively made a LOT of noise. As soon as past award winners were called on stage, they were flooded by cameras. The whole thing was a grand affair. Speaking of grand affairs, we then attended a banquet for all of the international delegations. I think I can sum it up rather quickly: food, food, food, and more food. I’m pretty sure there were at least 40 dishes at our table alone. This was followed by gift exchanges between the delegations leaders and the leaders of BAST (the Beijing Association for Science and Technology). Now, it’s time for bed. We’re all pretty exhausted.


March 22, 2012

Ni hao. Wo Jiao Greeshma.

About 14 hours after our flight left Newark, we finally touched down in Beijing. Customs. Baggage claim. Then we stepped outside to wait for the bus that would take us to Dongfang Hotel. The sky was white. Smog. We were all half asleep on the bus ride, but tried to get to know our three translators-whose Western names are Irene, Ted, and Alan. Alyssa and I returned to our room, on the 15th floor, and were asleep an hour later.

We visited the Beijing Museum of Natural History this morning. So many little kids! At least 4 different preschool and kindergarten classes were at the museum. Dressed in bright pink down jackets and carrying tiny matching book bags. The four of us explored the exhibits focused on dinosaurs, animals, and the human body with Irene. The section about human development seemed to have actual baby embryos stored in formaldehyde on display. The last fetus had hair…creepy! The exhibits featured a lot of interactive displays and computer simulations, which many of the kids were fascinated by.

I got to know Irene fairly well on the rides to and from the museum. She is a senior majoring in English at a college in Beijing. Her hometown is in another province so her parents live more than two hours away. I asked about her educational background. Since she is an arts student, she was not required to take science courses after 9th grade. This is so different from what we are used to; a multidisciplinary education is encouraged at almost every level in the States.

The whole delegation went on a walk after we returned to the hotel. It’s chilly in Beijing and the 5 day forecast is rather disheartening: smoke, light rain, overcast, overcast, rain. I noticed that there are hand warmers permanently attached to the handles of most bicycles. Beijing doesn’t have trash and recycling trucks. Instead, workers visit each store, household, and business. Trash is stored on carts attached to bicycles and carried away. Another observation: there are supermarkets and liquor stores on every street corner. Oh, and I found a McDonalds! I saw a person wearing a face mask, and promptly pulled out my camera to snap a picture. But the air quality really isn’t bad. Just dry.

In the afternoon, we set up our posters at Yucai School. The marching band (I know right? Who knew?), featuring male color guard members, played as we were welcomed to the school. I met many of the delegates from other countries as well as those from Beijing. The Australians were insane. The teachers seemed very involved in their students’ work, and one brought along a bunch of general knowledge quizzes that he was testing people with. It was an entertaining way to pass time while we were waiting for dinner. The Chinese engineering projects were impressive: one 8th grader built a car; another designed a robot that follows Excel commands to draw custom sketches. He also wanted my email address. Hooray for new friends!

At dinner, I had fun repeating ‘wo sù shì’ (I am vegetarian) to each of the servers. I’m picking up a bit of Chinese here and there…but judging by some of the looks I get in response to ‘wo jiao Greeshma, my tones are probably way off. I’ll work on it. We ate at mini-desks in a third grade class room with a 40 student capacity. It also had a flat screen television. I wonder how much they use the TV, and what for?

Back at the hotel, we practiced dancing to Cotton Eye Joe until everyone had the line dance figured out. We’ll be performing later this week. But now it’s time for bed. We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow.