“It matches with human life. Everything is an unknown thing until it’s discovered.”
What brings Bridgette Han ’18 to groundbreaking cardiac research is passion: her grief at a friend’s death, worries about a family history of heart problems. It’s also genetics: she describes herself as a little girl playing with her neurosurgeon father’s anatomical models, talks about the brother who is studying Alzheimer’s.
But the young scientist sounds distracted, even surprised as she discusses herself, quickly turning to polymers and amino acids and her fascination with degenerative diseases instead: for Bridgette, it’s the work that counts.
As a Research Scholar, a high school student selected to work with research teams at the University of California-San Diego, Bridgette began to study hydrogels that repair tissue damaged in heart attacks. She won the prestigious Johns Hopkins CTY (Center for Talented Youth) Cogito Research Award to encourage her progress.
Bridgette recently switched to another cardiology project under Dr. Phillip Yang of Stanford University. His lab is studying adult stem cells that have the potential to convert to cardiomyocytes, the muscle cells that make up the heart. She blogs through CTY with updates on her work, honing the skills she’s developed as a Big Red Blogger for Admissions.
Bridgette is self-deprecating about the failures she’ll encounter as a young researcher, reflecting on her first days in a lab, when she spilled acid on her skin, having belatedly realized just why closed-toe shoes were advised. She may no longer need to master those basics any novice lab assistant does, but she knows that innovative research requires continual patience with setbacks, with surprises and perhaps most importantly, with oneself.
Bridgette describes this need for patience with amusement. With each step she conducts, each solution she observes and every software program she needs to check, “there’s a lot of waiting around,” which is funny for a kid who was “always patient with other people” but “couldn’t sit in a chair more than a minute.”
She’s encountered the need for such discipline before. As a phone banker and canvasser for Exeter’s Democratic Club, she experienced frequent hang-ups and pushback against her scripted words. Rather than becoming discouraged, Bridgette became more involved: She recently helped shoot videos to assist emerita religion instructor Elizabeth “Betsy” Farnham, who is running for office as a state representative, in expressing her passion and personality through her social media campaign.
Part of what CTY must have seen in Bridgette is her skill with such teamwork, essential to lab success. She doesn’t need to be part of a breakthrough, and is content to be part of the effort. Of course, the member of the two-time NEPSAC championship-winning PEA volleyball team wouldn’t mind a little more success. But it’s the inquiry that keeps her going. She remembers her enjoyment of The Stranger in French class and of discussions in Religion and Popular Culture. “We kept debating theoretically. Why would this happen? What if this occurred?"
“It matches with human life,” the young scientist reflects. “Everything is an unknown thing until it’s discovered.”