The National Eye Institute (NEI) hosted winners of the 2023 Eye on the Future Video Contest on July 14 on the NIH Campus in Bethesda, Maryland.
In its second year, the Eye on the Future video contest invited high school students to submit videos about how they are engaged with science. This year, NEI received over 60 submissions. Thirteen high school students from around the U.S., including three winners and ten honorable mentions, came to campus for a day of eye and vision science-related activities and for the opportunity to network with each other and with NIH scientists.
Early in the day, NEI Director Michael F. Chiang, M.D., and NIH Acting Director Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., met with the students and discussed the challenges and joys of a career in science.
Tabak took questions from the students about NIH and his role as its leader. In addition to sharing his own journey to becoming a scientist, Tabak talked about his experience being the first person in his family to attend college – a challenge shared by some of the visiting students.
Kevin Williams, who directs NIH’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, hosted a panel discussion that included O’Rese Knight, M.D., University of California San Francisco, and Michael Tri Hoang Do, Ph.D., Harvard University, as well as NEI researchers Ximena Corso-Díaz, Ph.D., and Dinusha Rajapakse Todd, Ph.D. Students asked about aspects of scientific careers, like how the panelists got interested in science and medicine, career paths towards becoming a physician or researcher, and a day in the life of a scientist.
Following the panel discussion, the students participated in networking activities with NEI intramural scientists and trainees.
“I really enjoyed meeting all these amazing scientists and learning what they do,” said Thuy-Tien Tran, one of the video contest winners. “It helps to inspire me, [to figure out] what I would like to do in my future.”
In the afternoon, the students toured NEI laboratories and dissected animal eyes with NEI scientists Noor D. White, Ph.D. and Robert Fariss, Ph.D. Working in groups, the students learned about eye anatomy and got bit of lab experience.
“My favorite thing about the visit was… meeting people my age with similar interests and sharing with them,” said Celia Cooley, another video contest winner. “I never really thought I would be interested in the health sciences,” she added. "This visit has changed my perspective on what I can do… there’s room to explore and come up with experiments that merge disciplines.”
Remarking on one of the advanced microscopes in the NEI Biological Imaging Core Facility, “it was truly amazing to have a hands-on experience at this microscope, to see how a real scientist would do the job,” said Mark Leschinsky, the final video contest winner. “Overall, it’s been a wonderful experience for me.”
At the end of the day, the students and their parents visited exhibits from NEI, the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences, the National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Cancer Institute, and the NIH Office of Research Services. The Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences co-sponsored the event.
“Science in your world” category: Thuy-Tien Tran described her work in an optician’s office helping screen children’s vision. She has also conducted interviews to better understand the experience of people with vision loss. “I enjoy science, but I’m also passionate about art,” she said. “This video contest allowed me to use animation and storytelling to convey the science that I learned in a unique and fun way."
“Science in the field or lab” category: Celia Cooley is most interested in working with the community to preserve our environment. Her video shared steps for how volunteers can help monitor water quality and count macroinvertebrates – small insects like water pennies – in rivers and streams. A volunteer river monitor in her own community, Cooley loves to use film as a way to educate, and facilitate conversations.
“Science in your future” category: Inspired by the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, at eight years old Mark Leschinsky designed and won a patent for a unique, self-disinfecting hazmat suit. His video describes the features of his hazmat suit invention, which includes disinfecting solution pockets behind a porous outer layer. “I want to be able to help other people and have science be a benefit to society,” he said. Like Tran and Cooley, Leschinsky is keen to use the arts and film as a way to communicate. “I think we can use the intersections between science and film… to raise awareness about scientific topics.”
Students winning honorable mentions
Leif Trejo Hernandez