Salute to Science: FDA’s Student Poster Symposium

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.For many people, the hot summer months in the nation’s capital mean a time to depart for the beach or other less humid destinations. But one of the events I look forward to each year takes place during the hottest days of summer, right here on FDA’s White Oak Campus just outside of Washington, DC. It’s when I get to participate in the annual Salute to Science Student Poster Symposium.  Each of the posters on display offers a detailed and stimulating summary of the approximately 100 projects undertaken by FDA student interns during their internships.

Now celebrating its 8th year, the internship program provides high school students, college undergraduates and even postgraduates with a great training ground for the next stage of their scientific education. Each intern takes on a hands-on research topic to pursue under the watchful eye of a scientific mentor from either FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) or from the U.S. Air Force Wind Tunnel, which is located next door to our White Oak Campus.

As I looked over the posters and talked to the students about their projects, I was struck by their scientific sophistication as well as the remarkable range of topics addressed, ranging from a “virtual human head simulator,” which provides electrical stimulation that could be used to design novel neuro-prosthetic devices, optimize treatments, and assess the safety of medical devices such as MRIs, to the evaluation of a laser beam profile on optical properties of intraocular lens implants. The array of work demonstrated not only the promise of these students, but the breadth of scientific work undertaken here at FDA.

I was especially pleased to see so many young women participating in our internship program, given that women make up only 24 percent of the nation’s overall science and engineering workforce. The fact is, FDA is a welcoming place for female scientists and engineers; in addition to me, many of our top scientific positions are held by women.

This internship, and the Commissioner’s Fellowship Program for health care professionals, scientists, and engineers who may not have considered FDA in planning their career path, are helping to lay the groundwork for and train the next generation of FDA scientists.

They are part of our efforts to integrate strong science and research training requirements and programs, cultivate the expert institutional knowledge and innovation necessary to address gaps and challenges posed by novel products and areas, and continue to ensure safety and efficacy in the service of medicine and public health.

I am confident that the bright, creative, enthusiastic, and hard-working students who participated in FDA’s intern program will be part of the next generation of scientific leaders and innovators, and seeing their efforts gives me great hope for the future of this agency, and of the nation.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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