Posted by jlwile on May 1, 2013I became interested in home education because while I was on the faculty at Ball State University, my best chemistry and physics students were homeschool graduates. The more I studied home education, the more clear it became to me that for most students, it produces a superior education. As a result, I started working with home educators, and eventually, I started writing curriculum for them. Over the years, I have been truly blessed to hear from homeschool graduates who have gone on to do great things in their chosen fields of study. For example, not all that long ago, I met up with Joshua Russell, an amazing homeschool graduate from Alaska. His performance in a summer college program was so impressive that he was awarded a full-ride scholarship to any school in the University of Alaska system!
Well, I recently heard from a justifiably proud parent regarding her homeschool graduate’s success. His name is Talal Younes, and the picture above shows him with one of his professors at William Carey University. The picture was taken at the Honors Day Convocation held by the university, and it shows him with the Senior Biology Award he received. This means that he was the outstanding senior biology student over the entire year. Of course, one award wasn’t enough for Talal, so he also received the Senior Chemistry Award at the same event!
As if that’s not enough, Talal’s mother was kind enough to share with me the title of his Senior Honors Thesis: “Proposal of a Novel Mechanism for Alpha-synuclein Induced Neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s Disease.” In order to receive graduation honors at William Carey University, a student must complete an honors thesis in his or her area of study. However, a student can’t just decide to do an honors thesis on his or her own. The student must be invited to do so by a faculty member who wishes to supervise the thesis. Thus, the very fact that Talal can do a Senior Honors Thesis tells you he was so impressive that a professor wanted to spend extra time and energy working with him!
If you want to have some idea of what his Senior Honors Thesis is all about, alpha-synuclein is a small protein that is produced mainly in the brain.1 Neurologists are not quite sure what its function is, but some evidence suggests it might stabilize the outside layer (called the membrane) of certain nervous system cells.2 Other evidence suggests that it helps the cells of the nervous system change the patterns with which they connect to other cells of the nervous system.3 Mutations in the gene that produces this protein have been linked to Parkinson’s Disease,4, but how the protein contributes to the disease is still unknown. Based on the title of his thesis, it seems that Talal and his thesis advisor are suggesting a specific mechanism by which the protein contributes to Parkinson’s Disease.
Even though I don’t know Talal personally, I do have some experience with him. Back when I owned a publishing company, I used to have a contest called the “Science Question of the Week.” Each week, students would be challenged to answer a science question, and after 12 weeks, the student with the most correct answers would receive a prize. Talal was a regular participant in the contest, and he was tenacious! The competition was fierce, because there were many brilliant homeschooled students answering the questions, and usually, the winner had to have a perfect score. Time and time again, Talal was one or two questions away from winning, but he persevered until he did, indeed, win the contest. With his obvious talent and his tenacious attitude, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day he does figure out how alpha-synuclein contributes to Parkinson’s Disease!
Before I end this post, I do want to add one thing. In her message to me, Talal’s mother said this:
…he is still loving science. He credits you with helping create this passion.
Obviously, Talal and his parents deserve most of the credit for developing his God-given talents so thoroughly. However, I can’t tell you how much it means to know that I had a tiny part to play in the production of such a talented scientist! Thank you Talal. You have encouraged me greatly!
1. Iwai, A., Yoshimoto, M., Masliah, E., Saitoh, T., “The precursor protein of non-A beta component of Alzheimer’s disease amyloid is a presynaptic protein of the central nervous system,” Neuron 14:467-475, 1995
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2. Davidson, W. S., Jonas, A., Clayton, D. F., George, J. M., “Stabilization of alpha-synuclein secondary structure upon binding to synthetic membranes,” Journal of Biological Chemistry 273:9443-9449, 1998
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3. Clayton, D. F., George, J. M., “Synucleins in synaptic plasticity and neurodegenerative disorders,” Journal of Neuroscience Research 58:120-129, 1999
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4. Polymeropoulos, M. H., et al, “Mutation in the alpha-synuclein gene identified in families with Parkinson’s disease,” Science 276:2045-2047, 1997
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