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Growing Tomorrow's Researchers Today


Rusty Ludwigsen at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles 2017 photo courtesy of R. Ludwigsen

Albuquerque high school student Rusty Ludwigsen is an old pro on the science fair circuit. But when he wanted to go deeper, to use more sophisticated technology and techniques, he turned to the UNM Brain and Behavioral Health Institute for help. Ludwigsen met with biomedical sciences graduate student Kate Reinhart and BBHI Director Bill Shuttleworth in Shuttleworth's electrophysiology lab to discuss potential projects.

"One of the striking things about Rusty during that meeting was that he said he was interested in pharmacology and already knew that he wanted to do something related to how caffeine affects migraines," says Reinhart, who has served as his main day-to-day mentor in the lab. "It was amazing that he brought forth such a good idea right away."

Ludwigsen attends Albuquerque's Early College Academy. His interest in migraines is personal, during his sophomore year he experienced devastatingly painful headaches that caused him to miss most of the first semester of the school year.

Under Reinhart's guidance, Ludwigsen worked in the lab after school three times a week. "When he first came in, he learned what we do, how he might test caffeine and what the experimental design might be. I helped him with technical issues, prepared the slices for him, discussed and helped prep him for what he wanted to present in the lab meetings," she says.

The work paid off. This year, Ludwigsen took first place with his research at the New Mexico Regional Science and Engineering Fair. In late spring, he attended the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. There, 1800 students from 78 countries competed in more than 20 categories. Ludwigsen's project, An Investigation into Caffeine as a Migraine Treatment and Its Effects on the Severity of Spreading Depolarizations, took 4th place in the Cellular and Molecular Biology category. He also won the University of Arizona Special Award.

Ludwigsen's mother Karen Stockham credits her son's success to his science mentors, the UNM STEM-H program, and his unending determination and love of science.

What's next for the high school junior? He continues his research in the electrophysiology lab and is grateful for the experience. "It's really nice to work with people who are years ahead of me and to have conversations with them related to my science ideas and what I care about," says Ludwigsen. "I am learning so much."


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