HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo (CBS4) – Throughout the school year, CBS4, along with PDC Energy and the Colorado School of Mines, recognize high school students who are excelling in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM. Each month, a Future Leaders winner is chosen, and they get $1,000 and a profile on CBS4 News.

LINK: Nominate a Future Leader

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January’s winner is Megan Hupka, who is a senior at Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch.

“I’ve always been a curious person,” Hupka told CBS4.

(credit CBS)

Asking questions and searching for answers led Megan to a class called Experimental Designs in Biotechnology.

“Me along with two other students did a project involving C. elegans which are microscopic worms,” Hupka explained.

(credit Megan Hupka)

The worms develop plaque, like the kind that causes Alzheimer’s disease. Hupka and her lab partners studied the effect of a dietary supplement called Piracetam on the worms.

“We did find that with a higher concentration of Piracetam we did see a statistical significantly lower number of C. elegans in our experimental groups,” Hupka said.

(credit Megan Hupka)

Now she’s mentoring younger science students as they do their own research projects.

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“It just brings me this joy that I am discovering something new, or helping to potentially lead to a big discovery, or a cure. And being a part of that scientific community and contributing to it,” Hupka explained.

(credit CBS)

Megan is pursuing her joy in an internship at the Niswander Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She’s working with graduate student Heather Brown.

“We are trying to get a protein to fluoresce,” Hupka said. “We can determine where these proteins localize, how they move, and how they interact with each other.”

“Megan, tell us why do you love biotechnology?” asked CBS4’s Ashton Altieri.

“I definitely think my teacher played a big part in it because she just has such passion for the subject, and all the potential that there is in this field, and the excitement that can come from it,” Hupka replied.

(credit CBS)

She’s leaving a lasting legacy at Rock Canyon High School. Hupka is working with several other students to start a chapter of the Science National Honor Society. They inducted their first members in December, and now they’re working on an outreach program to local elementary schools.

“Really just to be a part of spreading scientific knowledge in the community, and especially to young minds.”

(credit CBS)

Hupka has already been accepted to the University of Colorado Boulder, and she plans to continue doing research projects there.

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“Ultimately, I plan on getting my PhD and continuing research. That would be the goal is that I would love to research for the rest of my life.”