Mergner’s summer fun happens in the lab
Eva Mergner talks about the American Cancer Society research project she participated in this summer | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
WHO: Eva Mergner
WHAT: Spent the summer in a lab, as part of a cancer-fighting research team
Updated: September 17, 2012 12:46PM
Eva Mergner considers herself “a humanities kind of girl” who really enjoys reading and creative writing.
The 17-year-old Wilmette resident is co-editor of her school newspaper at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest. She also plans to restart her much-loved karate classes once she starts her senior year this fall.
With newspaper editing and karate on her resume, it might surprise some people to learn that Mergner spent her summer vacation in a Chicago area cancer research lab, mapping the role three proteins play in liver fibrosis, or scarring of the liver.
Mergner, the daughter of Art and Danielle Mergner, was one of 35 students across Illinois chosen to take part in the American Cancer Society’s summer high school research program. She and the other 34 were chosen from among 300 applicants to spend eight weeks, working with medical research teams across the state.
She worked with a team headed by Dr. Gulam Waris of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago. She will write a 10-page scientific paper on the project, then present a report of the findings she helped her team develop at a recognition dinner Friday.
“It’s definitely not the kind of experience that high school juniors get every day,” Mergner said Friday, the final day of her research stint. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I loved it.”
The research program is in its 10th year, growing from five students in 2003 to 35 this year. Elizabeth Jablonski, who is director of research for the American Cancer Society’s Illinois division, said that organizers look for students “for whom this may be a chance they wouldn’t otherwise get.
“We’re also looking for those who maybe need just that little extra push to show them what science and scientific research can be and how they can make it a part of their lives.”
Mergner fits that bill. Both her parents work in or have backgrounds in scientific research, she said, and when she learned about the program, she decided to try out for it.
“I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” she admitted. “One thing I learned immediately was how very careful you have to be in a research situation.
“There’s a degree of precision that you have to use in medical laboratories that you have to get used to.”
Mergner’s experience cemented her determination to make her career in the biologic sciences. She is already eyeing Northwestern University and St. Louis’s Washington University because of the latter’s strong research programs.
Her advice to other students who might want to get into the research program next year? Be prepared to work, check every fact carefully, and ask a lot of questions.
“It can be intimidating, which is why asking those questions is definitely important,” she said.
Having the kind of passion Mergner has for the subject also helps: “Cancer is so pervasive and ubiquitous an illness, and so few people have the opportunity to take part in development of cures. That’s what I got to do this summer.”