While many students spend their summers relaxing and unwinding, Westbury resident Michael Lai’s days have been spent making strides toward medical advancements.
Lai is currently doing cancer research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a project he took on just a week after returning from a month-long trip to the Weitzmann Institutes’s campus in Israel, where he did medical research.
Lai, a 2017 Jericho High School graduate, was one of 19 teens from the United States selected to participate in the Institutes’s annual Dr. Bessie F. Lawrence International Summer Science Institute (ISSI). This prestigious program, which accepts only one in five applicants and provides full, merit-based scholarships to all participants, affords students the opportunity to conduct research with world-renowned scientists in biology, chemistry, math and computer science. Lai and his American counterparts joined 60 young scientists from around the world to work alongside top researchers, and learn about life in Israel.
ISSI participants usually earn their place through an application process, but Lai was granted a spot after winning an award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles this past year.
His ISEF project centered on lung regeneration, a project he worked on while doing research at Weill Cornell Medical School the summer before his senior year of high school. While he continued his work on regeneration in Israel, this time, Lai’s efforts focused on the heart, as he worked in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology at the Weizmann Institute.
“My lab focused on heart regeneration, and how after a heart attack…we can improve functionality of the heart and the patient’s outcome,” Lai said.
During the first three weeks of the ISSI program, students spend their weekdays during research in the lab, but weekends are dedicated to exploring and learning about Israel. Lai and his fellow ISSI attendees visited Jerusalem, Masada, the Western Wall, the Dead Sea and more.
“Being that this was my first time in Israel, I was excited to explore and meet people,” Lai said. “The biggest takeaway for me was the cultural experience. I’m never going to forget learning about the people and history of Israel and the Jewish people.”
This fall, Lai heads to an eight-year medical program at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. He encourages budding scientists from Nassau County to look into the ISSI program, calling the experience “unparalleled.”
“I really hope people around Nassau County apply to this program,” Lai said. “The application is not that difficult and if you get accepted, it’s a full scholarship. It’s an amazing opportunity.”