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Student sets her sights on medicine


For the Mail Call

Research papers might be an infrequent chore for most high school students, but one Rockwood Summit High School senior is ready to make research a way of life.

"I want to go into medicine,'' said 18-year-old Helena Wotring, daughter of Robert and Placida Wotring of Fenton. "Ideally, I'd like to work with robotics in surgery. As a fall back, I'd want to do re-search, probably pharmaceutical, because that's huge.''

Wotring has taken two science classes per year since she was a sophomore at Summit, running the gamut from biology to physics.

She is in her second year of an independent study at the Central Institute for the Deaf Research Center just behind Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. The program allows students to do research on any science or mathematical field that interests them.

Wotring wanted to research hearing disorders because one of her best friends, who had been deaf since age 2, recently was fitted with a cochlear implant that allowed her to hear again.

"Within about six or seven months you could walk up behind her and say her name and she would turn around and look at you,'' Wotring said. "It's amazing.''

She was assigned a mentor who loaned her textbooks from courses she'd never taken on subjects like advanced chemistry and audiology.

"That was so I could understand the journal articles and research articles you have to read,'' Wotring said. "All the research you do is on your own. I got into some articles on hearing and distortion products — tones produced by the ear. I had to figure out how the ear worked, not just the sound goes in and it goes to your brain — all the technical information.''

Since completing her background re-search, Wotring has come to know and love the bullfrogs that are helping her with her hearing restoration experiments.

"I think they're starting to recognize me,'' Wotring said. "Every time I'm in the lab I think they're saying 'Oh, no, it's that girl again.'''

Talking about her experiments, Wotring begins referring to concepts like "white'' or background noise and the "pink'' noise people hear when there is music playing.

She sedates the frogs and exposes them to white noise.

The experience causes them to go deaf temporarily and she monitors the recovery.

"Bullfrogs are one of three known species that can regenerate their hearing,'' Wotring said. "One is a kind of bird — the other one is a type of zebra fish, it's kind of hard to test their hearing. Bullfrogs are nice. They don't bite, you can't get sick from them. You don't have to stick them with any needles which I love.''

But this high school researcher hasn't let her experience go to her head.

"Most of the research is done on the second floor, but I'm in the basement,'' she said. "When they have lab meetings a lot of the graduate students and researchers act surprised to see me. They're like, 'You're still here? Most high school students only stay a summer.'''

This August, Wotring will realize one of her dreams.

"I have wanted to go to Washington Uni-versity since fifth grade,'' she said. "They're giving me enough scholarship money that I can go. I am going to double major in biochemistry and mechanical engineering. I'm going to do a minor in Spanish just because everyone needs to know at least two languages.''

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