AMES, Iowa -- Ben Janson couldn't ask for a better summer vacation. He's having fun doing what he loves. He's hanging out with the pros. And he's getting paid. He can't believe his luck.
The Iowa State University junior from Mason City is not playing baseball, driving racecars or chasing tornadoes. He's happily tucked away in a research laboratory at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md.
Janson, who majors in microbiology and genetics, is on a 10-week paid research internship in NIH's Cell Biology and Metabolism Program.
He's working on a study with the model research organism E. coli to understand regulation by small RNAs and small proteins. Ultimately, the investigation will lead to a better understanding of how all bacteria function, including the pathogenic bacteria that cause diseases such as tuberculosis.
"I still can't believe I am here at the NIH, learning about science and actually getting paid to do it," Janson said. "The days have gone by so fast because I've been having so much fun, and the work is fascinating."
According to Iowa State's Joan Cunnick, an associate professor of animal science and professor-in-charge of microbiology, many undergraduate students do research, but not many get to go to NIH after sophomore year to do so. But Janson is a top student "with an innate curiosity about microbiology and immunology," she says.
"With Ben's ability to solve problems and organize his time, and his interest in microbiology research, I can see him becoming a successful researcher," she said.
Janson, who admits to getting bored fast if he's not busy, is intrigued by "disease, treatment and prevention." He's always wanted to be a physician, but is now contemplating an M.D./Ph.D. program.
"To me, there is nothing more important than learning what goes on behind the curtain. Whether it be the mechanisms behind organic chemistry, or the research behind the practicing physician," Janson said.
"This is the chance of a lifetime to work with some of the most talented people in research to understand what a research career is all about," he said.
In fact, Janson is working with a scientist who is an Iowa State alumnus. Chase Beisel graduated in chemical engineering in 2004 and completed graduate work at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. Like Janson, he was an active member of the Iowa State marching band. He is one of 10 scientists in the NIH laboratory headed by Gisela Storz.
"The experience in my lab has been nothing but positive, and a lot of that is attributed to the people who are here," Janson said.
In between actual experiments work and meetings, Janson reads research articles related to his lab's work. And he attends on-site scientific lectures by NIH and visiting scientists "with prestigious backgrounds" that provide "a glimpse into current research."
"It's fascinating to listen to their work, as well as to the discussion that fires back and forth between the speaker and the audience," he said.
"Everyday I learn so much more than I did the day before. This certainly is a dream summer internship for me," Janson said. "I can't wait to go each day and try to understand something new!"