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The University of Florida Society for Viral Studies (Virology Club) took a trip during the Spring Break to Washington, D.C. and to the National Institutes of Health.

The University of Florida Society for Viral Studies (Virology Club) took a trip during the Spring Break to Washington, D.C. and to the National Institutes of Health. Our group, which included Dr. Maruniak, started by touring the Washington D.C. monuments. The first one we went to was the Washington Monument because it was closest to the metro. We then went on to see the Lincoln Memorial, and were able to get excellent pictures as a large group. Other sites we made it to included, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Potomac River, and the Korean War Memorial. Some students visited the brutally honest history of the Holocaust museum which hit them hard. One inevitable lesson from the visit was: "If our generation does not make a change or take a stand, we will end up reliving history in some way or another."

Everyone in our group felt the same sobering yet solidifying sense of camaraderie that we are not alone. Getting to experience those exhibits with like-minded and empathetic individuals such as our club is one memory they will carry with them forever.

We were close enough to walk to the NIH main campus. We met up with a former Department of Entomology & Nematology Masters Student, Dr. Jennifer Anderson! She explained how Dr. Maruniak encouraged her to get a M.S. in Entomology & Nematology (1998) at the University of Florida, and that gave her a kick start to her career. Next we met Dr. Fauci and incredible man who was behind HIV/AIDS research, he is also the 9th most cited scientist! We had a Q&A with him and I think I can speak for everyone else that he was inspirational for anyone who loves science.

On Tuesday, our last day here, we spent the entire day at the NIH. Jennifer Anderson, who now works for the NIAID, took us to meet Dr. Anthony Fauci. Dr. Fauci is the director of the NIAID since 1984 and one of the world's most renowned scientists. He's advised 5 presidents, and his work with HIV has led to many discoveries and the way we treat the disease today. We were very fortunate Dr. Fauci took 30 minutes out of his day to meet with us and discuss his path to where he is today, and provide inspiration for how to achieve our own professional goals. Meeting Dr. Anthony Fauci while touring the main NIH campus was the highlight of the trip. He offered some great career advice and eloquently discussed his work with HIV/AIDS. He explained how he was in our shoes at one point and that taking opportunities led him to where he is today. Also, hearing about Dr. Fauci’s path and Dr. Jennifer Anderson's path to her current position as the head of Dr. Fauci’s lab helped to mitigate some of the anxiety many of us have regarding our future. He encouraged us to seize all opportunities that come our way, and it was kind of a star-stricken moment by the  end of the meeting. It was very cool to finally put a face to Jennifer Anderson, who showed us around and took us to an HIV research lab.

After the meeting with Dr. Fauci, we took a tour of the NIH clinical trials area with a wonderful tour guide! We saw pediatric patient artwork, and got an in depth look at the NIH'S day to day processes. She showed us different wings, mental health, obesity, sleep studies, and there was even a chapel. What we got out of the tour is that the NIH tries their hardest to make patients feel as comfortable as possible. The final tour of the day was also a favorite which was the National Library of Medicine. One of the things they admired about our technological age is how fast information can be spread. This results in fast development of cures and fundamental research for new emerging diseases. The library also had a interesting collection of historical items, such as a letter written by George Washington, the first edition of The Origins of Species book, and we were able to see an actual Nobel Prize.

After that we met back of with Jennifer who showed us some extra areas of NIH. For our last part of our NIH tour, we were taken up to Dr. Fauci's labs and taken through the labs to see the work being done. Several of the researchers were working on projects, so they stopped to give us an overview and answer any questions we had. Jennifer Anderson did an amazing job setting everything up for us to make this happen. The NIH and NIAID gave a much greater perspective into the work performed in medical research and the benefits it can have.

We took Ubers from the hotel to Fort Derrick, through 4 security checkpoints, to tour the Biosafety Level 4 lab. The tour at BSL 4 Lab at Fort Detrick on Monday was some of the students’ favorite of the three tours. Dr. Reed Johnson was the PI for the lab and he provided us with the opportunity to go through the lab. The tour consisted of seeing and learning about the PET scan machine, an MRI machine, and learning about various forms of research ongoing in the labs. Also, one of the members of the lab showed us how the data from the experiments is processed, as well as ways the information is presented when finalized.  Learning about the different equipment and software used in the lab to conduct experiments and process data was fascinating. We were astonished by the engineering behind the construction of the rooms housing the large equipment. The tour guides, Drs. Reed Johnson and Mike Holbrook, were very informative and provided insightful answers to our questions. Also, hearing about the career path of the intern, Dr. Heena Sherma, was very helpful. It introduced the students to another possible post-undergraduate option.

Also the researchers explained their experiences working for the NIH and the personal struggles, doubts, and obstacles they had to overcome to get to where they currently are. This was comforting to hear for the lot of the students, as many of them are on the closing stages of undergraduate college and opening stages of acquiring further education and career opportunities. It can be stressful and scary to not fully know where you'll end up or what you will be doing in the next years that could determine what you do for the rest of your life, but the fact of the matter is that most everyone has this worry, and most no one is truly prepared for the upcoming events of their lives. What the students took from this is that they should jump for any and all opportunities that could lead to a worthy learning experience.

After Fort Detrick, we traveled to the NIH Malaria/Vector Biology lab at Twinbrook. It was an amazing experience to speak with the different scientists and see the insects used in their research. Some worked with mosquitoes and diseases while others worked with salivary glands of different vectors. They exuded passion for their studies, and it was inspiring to us all.  There we were able to learn about different types of mosquitos, and malaria research from several of the leading scientists. We were given a tour of the lab facilities, the insectary, as well as the opportunity to see and learn all about sandflies. The sandflies and insectary were a favorite part of this tour. We experienced cow blood feeding to the insects.  We were not allowed in the Malaria labs with good reason. We also got to see the sandflies that unlike mosquitoes made a pool of blood on the skin, eek! Dr. Jesus Valenzuela's presentation on his work with immune response to tick bites was especially interesting. He lectured on the influence of chemical content of bugs' saliva on human detection and reaction.

Even UF Virology Club alumni traveled to the NIH. One said, “This trip has been my best traveling experience since our last trip to CDC, Atlanta. I am so grateful to still have this opportunity to stay connected to Virology Club as an alumni, and I hope to make more meaningful contributions to this organization in the future.”

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