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June 14, 2007

Discovering the beauty of science

by Johanna Gretschel, Online Managing Editor
The patient's dark red eyes darted around anxiously, contrasting sharply against pale white skin- the trademark of albinism. The patient was about to become one of the many misdiagnosed with a lethal form of albinism until research conducted by Melis Anahtar, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) junior and 2004 Blair graduate, revealed that the patient actually possessed the common type.

Anahtar conducted her research on albinism the summer before her junior year of college at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda. These findings, along with other research conducted over the years, earned Anahtar the honor of being named one of Glamour magazine's Top Ten College Women of 2007 in the magazine's June issue.
<i> Photo courtesy of Glamour Magazine </i>
Photo courtesy of Glamour Magazine


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the competition, which celebrates the achievements of university women with exemplary leadership experience, campus and community involvement, unique goals and academic excellence. Anahtar also earned the L'Oreal Beauty of Giving Award, in which she received $2,500 to donate to a charity of her choice.

Rewarding research

In addition to her research on albinism sub-diseases, Anahtar is currently doing human genome research at the NIH. She has also worked in the MIT BioInstrumentation lab since September of 2005. When asked what her most rewarding research experience was, Anahtar confesses she cannot decide. "All of my research has influenced the way I approach scientific problems," she says. Her research endeavors have inspired her to pursue an MD/PhD after she graduates from MIT in 2008.

Anahtar's experience with the Magnet program's Senior Research Project (SRP) sparked her penchant for research. She fulfilled her SRP requirements by working in a bioengineering lab at Massachusetts General Hospital during the summers of 2002 and 2003, before her junior and senior years of high school.

Anahtar developed a microfluidic device for her SRP, an innovation earning her a finalist position in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search in 2004. She also qualified for the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in Portland, Oregon, where she received the first place prize in Engineering. "These competitions really opened my eyes to the incredible research done by high schoolers around the country," she says.

Mad for the Magnet

The Magnet program's advanced math and science electives were great preparation for the intensive workload at MIT, according to Anahtar. "I didn't even realize they were that advanced while I was taking them," she says. She named differential equations and biochemistry as some of the helpful advanced electives offered in Magnet. These classes are also open to the rest of the student body.

Magnet science teacher Robert Donaldson fondly remembers his former student, with whom he still keeps in touch regularly. "For many years I was director of Magnet Arts Night. Out of many student I could have chosen to be my assistant, I chose Melis because she was so smart and so responsible and plus she [had] a musical background," he says. Anahtar played the piano in high school.

Advice to future Glamour girls

Many students make the mistake of spreading themselves too thin by signing up for every extracurricular activity and club available, Anahtar says. "I think a lot of people get involved with six million activities, but ultimately it's better to focus on a couple that you really like. Colleges find it more impressive and you'll get more out of it," she advises. Anahtar offers further advice to high school students through her blog on the MIT Admissions website.

Balancing a rigorous MIT course load with all of her research projects is challenging but not impossible for Anahtar, who says she relies on the organizational skills she learned from the Magnet program. "I try to go to the lab between classes during the day, so that I have time to focus on my homework and extra-curriculars at night," she says.

Anahtar suggests setting aside time during the freshman year of college to simply have fun. "Freshman year is the time to try new things and figure out your passions so you can focus on them later," she says. "Just take a normal class course load and explore clubs. Take the time to get to know your classmates."



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  • alum on July 3, 2007 at 3:59 PM
    yay for melis - that's incredible!

    just a thought: it's not necessarily a mistake to get involved with six million activities. it can be just as rewarding as getting involved with one or two, if your heart is in it. but melis is right; colleges love to see the passionate pursuit of one or two activities, so i guess the world perceives people like me as making a mistake for loving to do everything. but please, blazers: i want to caution you against getting so involved with your schoolwork that you forget to be involved with activities in the outside world. meet people! learn things! play in the garden! do everything you can to fulfill yourself while you're healthy and whole!
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