Fire and inspiration

“Keep the colored fire!” one student exclaimed.

How often do you hear that at work? But that kind of enthusiasm was widespread in our labs when we recently hosted 100 Philadelphia-area high school students to see what it is like to work here. I look forward to this visiting students’ event each year.

Students joined us from Marple Newtown High School, Great Valley High School in Malvern, and the Lower Merion ‘A Better Chance’ program, and, in collaboration with the Philadelphia Education Fund, two city high schools—Girard Academic Music Program and Academy at Palumbo.

GSK scientists prepared 10 interactive demonstrations to show how new medicines are discovered, tested, and made. Students were given a peek into 3D protein structures and computational chemistry, an automated robot preparing enzyme assays, and a hands-on tablet manufacturing demo. By the end of the day, the students had learned to make nylon in a chemistry lab, measure an infrared spectrum to identify a white powder, and catch a glimpse at an elemental burning experiment (or, as the students say, the “colored fire”).

Fifty GSK volunteers, mostly R&D scientists like me, hoped to inspire the students to pursue science and technology careers. We joked with the students that they were seeing scientists in our “natural habitat,” which not many people get to experience. But year after year, our GSK R&D staff provides students with an inside view of scientific careers: giving students a window into our world, filled with real, energized people who discover and develop medicines for patients in need.