A Biotech Coming of Age: One Student's Journey

As a young child, James Bowden loved science – he enjoyed the Magic School Bus and visiting the California Science Center. But he always viewed science as something other people did. It was not until middle school that he would come to see his potential path as a scientist. In 7th grade, he traded Ms. Frizzle and her magic bus for Ms. Steinhauer and her Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) labs at Portola Highly Gifted Middle School.

“It took ABE and working on my science fair project with Karin Steinhauer to understand that science was something that everyone could get involved in, including me,” Bowden says. Now Bowden is entering his senior year of high school and applying to colleges in biomedical engineering to pursue a research career.

“I was very lucky in that I got to participate in the ABE program in my 7th grade biology class,” he says. “As a 13-year-old, biotechnology was not something on my radar screen. In no other class was I able to experience the kind of work actually taking place at the cutting edge of the field. Even the labs in my high school AP biology class aren’t in the league of modifying the genome of an organism.”

Bowden remembers being excited for weeks before starting ABE and he remembers the excitement when he was able to use restriction enzymes to create a recombinant plasmid of DNA to insert into bacteria. “As interesting as the science behind the whole lab was, the most memorable part was just getting to use all of the tools of a research scientist,” he says. “From micropipetting to centrifuging, to running gel electrophoresis, an affinity for lab work emerged in me. Before, I had never realized that this was a career option, but it definitely seemed like something I could do every day and never get tired of.”

The experience led him to pursue a science fair project under the mentorship of Steinhauer, who coordinates one of the ABE distribution centers for the Greater Los Angeles region. Although he had a good idea for his project, he says he was “clueless” on how to carry it out before Steinhauer stepped in to help. “Karin taught me aseptic technique and how to reliably culture bacteria,” he says. “Without her, I probably would’ve done another mediocre science project, and may not have continued on to do research internships at some of the top research institutions in the nation. I cannot thank her enough.”

Finding himself back at the California Science Center in 8th grade for the California State Science fair was the “epitome” of Bowden’s realization that he could be a scientist. Since then, he has done summer research at the Drexel University College of Medicine and at the University of Washington Medicine Department of Bioengineering. Now in evaluating colleges, his priority is in assessing the available research opportunities. Bowden’s long-term goal is to earn a Ph.D. to help solve challenges in biomedicine.

“Being introduced to biotechnology with ABE definitely helped me fall in love with the idea of using technology, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills to chip away at the biological questions of today,” he says. “I can’t wait to be a part of this next generation of innovation, as we find out more about ourselves and life in general. In particular, biomedical engineering fascinates me as a way to manipulate cells and molecules and genes to cause incredibly large-scale effects."