Profile: Amber Ortega in Summer Research for Undergrads Program, Feb. 13, 2008

Amber Ortega

by Valerie Kimble

Right: Amber Ortega in the lab.

SOCORRO – Amber Ortega had such a good time at last summer’s “Interdisciplinary Science for the Environment” program that she’s looking for a similar opportunity this year.

“I really want to do it again,” said Ortega, a 19-year-old sophomore at New Mexico Tech pursuing a double major in biology and psychology at the state-supported science and engineering research university in Socorro. As a past participant, she is ineligible to apply for another slot in the program; however, Ortega has been busy applying for similar offerings at 20 different colleges around the country.

“I’d definitely recommend that students apply for the program at Tech,” she said, adding that it even paid for participants to attend conferences.

For application materials and additional information about the program, visit the REU webpage:

Ortega chose to fly to Kansas City, Kansas for the fall 2007 conference of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans (SACNAS), joined by her two summer research project teammates and other Hispanic students.

The pre-med student plans to enter an MD/PhD program and become a medical scientist; she is currently maintaining a 3.84 GPA in Biology and a 3.80 in Psychology.

This is the fourth year New Mexico Tech has offered the program. Participants have been divided among research projects, with two or three participants and at least two faculty members on each team. Ortega was on a team of three students last summer, working with three faculty.

“We were given projects based on our major,” said Ortega, whose team supervisors were Dr. Snezna Rogelj and Dr. Scott Shors, Biology Department, and Dr. Alexander Kornienko, Chemistry Department.

Ortega’s team was assigned to the “Drug Discovery” project in which the students tested synthesized compounds on cervical cancer and t-cell leukemia cells using in vitro methodology.

“We developed the compounds using ‘green chemistry’ (non-toxic) in one step, and extrapolated the results for mass production,” she said. The team then created a library of compounds using various components.

“One of the compounds looks very promising,” Ortega said, adding that New Mexico Tech students in Kornienko’s freshmen chemistry labs continued to work on the team’s discovery to expand the standing library.

Amber is an avid snowboarder and a member of the Desert Roses Repertory dance team on campus led by Norelle Shlanta, a graduate student in statistical mathematics at New Mexico Tech.

She is a 2006 graduate of La Cueva High School and the daughter of Cindy Weaks and Mike Ortega of Albuquerque.

Ortega is a work-study student with the Office of Research and Economic Development at New Mexico Tech, and works weekends “as the birthday girl” at a restaurant in Albuquerque.

-- NMT --