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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 7 | May 2, 2002

Next Best Thing to a Trip to the Stars

Science student lands dream job.

By Helen Lewis

Imagine making childhood plans to one day be an astronaut or a fighter pilot, and then imagine what it was like for Bachelor of Science student Sam Kohen to be invited to work at NASA.

"When I went there it was better than being a kid in a candy shop. It was amazing -- it was everything I'd spent so much time reading about and dreaming about," he says. "I didn't want to be there just as a tourist -- I wanted to be a part of it."

Having to wear glasses put an end to Kohen's early dreams of flying but he found an alternate route to NASA, spending last summer employed there as a researcher.

He plans to enter medical school later this year and is now thinking of pursuing space medicine. "This job taught me so much about NASA and what happens in space with medicine. It opened my eyes to great opportunities to treat astronauts and do research."
Working with NASA employees at the Kennedy Space Center Ecology and Nature Reserve at Cape Canaveral, Kohen conducted ecological fieldwork and helped with a medical research project on blood pressure in astronauts.

"Our ecological research focused on the tremendous mosquito problem at the reserve. One method they use to control the mosquitoes is to raise the water levels in areas around the Space Center, to stop the mosquitoes from laying their eggs. We were looking at the effects of raising the water levels and trying to work out which strategies would be best for the ecosystem," he says.

Kohen's work on the medical research project focused on blood pressure problems that can cause astronauts to faint when returning to earth from space-normal conditions.

The stint at NASA wasn't Kohen's first foray into research, nor into the medical field. Over the previous two summers, he worked at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto on three-month grants.

The first project, with Chief Pathologist Dr. Sylvia Asa, was in pathology and molecular genetics research on pituitary differentiation in fetuses. The next project, with Hematology Prof. Dr. Greg Denomme, looked at Rhesus disease in fetuses.

But Kohen doesn't spend all his time in the lab. A keen athlete, he has represented UBC in triathlons and cross-country running, and made the Ontario Provincial Triathlon team. He was offered a training spot with the Junior National Team, but turned it down to take the position at Mount Sinai Hospital.

His busy schedule also includes working as an adviser in UBC's Gage Residence, and teaching the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) courses.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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