YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Isabel Chang didn’t spend the summer before her senior year in high school sleeping in or lounging by the pool. Instead, she spent six weeks manipulating the genetic makeup of zebra fish to see whether any trends emerged that would help explain why facial defects show up in humans.

Chang, 17 and a senior at Seoul American High School on Yongsan Garrison, spent her summer paired with a scientist in Massachusetts who is doing research on birth defects.

“We got to work with full-scale researchers,” said Chang, after finishing her first day of school back at Seoul American last week. “It was better than reading a textbook.”

Chang’s physics teacher, John Malone, suggested last winter that she apply for the Research Science Institute program.

Sponsored by the Virginia-based Center for Excellence in Education and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the program invites about 90 high school students from around the world to work with scientists, mathematicians and engineers to learn how science is used in industry and research. Two students each year come from Department of Defense Dependents Schools, one in Europe and one in the Pacific.

“It was an all-expense-paid trip,” Chang said.

She reported to work each weekday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to learn how to manipulate the protein structure of embryonic zebra fish.

Tracking patterns of abnormalities in other organisms is one way scientists can learn about the causes and possible cures of abnormalities in humans, she said. In her experiment, Chang changed the amount of proteins in embryonic fish. As the fish grew, she tracked the changes within their skeletal structures.

The scientists use zebra fish because their genetic codes, or DNA, are similar to DNA patterns in humans, she said.

Chang lived in a dorm room at MIT in Cambridge during the six weeks, where she sat through a few introductory science lessons and met friends from Poland, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United States and other countries.

Chang hopes to pursue biomedical engineering in college, she said just before tackling her physics homework. “It feels like I have direction,” she said. “That’s a good feeling.”

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