Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology

LABORATORY WORKSHOPS FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

by Susan Johnson

April 20th, 2010

April 5th marked the final week for this year's Spring Laboratory Workshop for High School Biology Classes offered by Life Sciences Outreach. This year, Outreach served approximately 600 students at the Science Center over the course of six weeks. Participating teachers from public, private and parochial schools from all over New England chose a protocol appropriate for their class from Outreach's online menu, and traveled to Harvard to participate in the three-hour laboratory session. The choices in 2010 included PCR and Gel Electrophoresis, The Heart and ECG, Investigations with C. elegans, Plasmid Technology and Zebrafish Embryology.

As always, the program depended heavily upon a staff of dedicated teaching fellows drawn from OEB, MCB, FAS Center for Systems Biology and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Rhonda Hyde (Life Sciences 1a TF and former HMS post-doc) and Dr. Casey Roehrig (Hunter Lab) were instrumental in re-designing the 2010 C. elegans protocol to teach students about the role of reporter genes in biological research. Under Drs. Hyde and Roehrig's guidance, students placed the lacZ reporter gene into several strains of transgenic mutants and observed gene expression. In addition, students visually identified different worm strains based upon their morphology and behavior. Dr. Jennifer Carr (LS2 preceptor) led the Heart and ECG labs where pairs of students dissected fresh calves hearts, analyzed their own heart trace before and after exercise, and learned how to take a fellow student's blood pressure.

The popular zebrafish embryology protocol led by Drs. Jacqueline Brooks (Hunter Lab) and Farida Emran (Dowling Lab), captivated high school students as they examined the early stages of skeletal development and used techniques common in embryological research. Both the plasmid technology lab, developed by FAS Systems Biology members and led by Dr. Peter Turnbaugh, and the gel and electrophoresis lab, led by Dr. Casey Roehrig and Deborah McEwan (Hunter Lab), were ever-popular choices because they enabled students to use basic, but otherwise inaccessible technology emphasized in their textbooks. In all the sessions, enthusiastic graduate students and post-doctoral fellows provided crucial assistance to students and enabled Outreach to consistently offer a 1:4 or 1:5 teacher-student ratio.

This year's newest protocol was the result of a collaboration with the FAS Center for Systems Biology. Supported by an NIGMS grant focusing on the biology of diversity, Murray lab post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Edel Hyland, worked closely with Outreach program manager, Tara Bennett, to develop a laboratory that taught students about plasmid technology and sterile technique, and showed students how to use mathematical models to predict antibiotic resistance driven by mutation. Murray lab members Natalie Funk, Lori Huberman, Mary Wahl and Derek Lau assisted in the classroom during trial runs with classes from Haverhill and Quabbin Regional High Schools. In the future, the antibiotic resistance protocol will be expanded into an online module for remote classes.

One of the most compelling features of the program for students was hearing each teaching fellow speak about his or her interests and research. The myriad of personal stories and passions on display beautifully illustrated that there is no single path to becoming a scientist and that biological research can take many forms. Dr. Stephanie Aktipis (OEB) showed the students beautiful slides of diverse snails she had collected from spots around the globe, while Dr. Jennifer Carr showed students movies of guinea fowl trotting on a treadmill as she spoke about her interest in animal locomotion and research at the Concord Field Station.

As the last session ended on April 8th, the Outreach Program had achieved its springtime goals: to give as many high school biology students as possible a taste of an undergraduate laboratory biology class, enable them to use technology they wouldn't otherwise have access to, and to work under the close guidance of inspirational role models. Now finishing its 8th year, the spring program for high school classes is greatly appreciated by area biology teachers who are searching for ways to give their students genuine laboratory experiences despite constant budget cuts and, as a result, is always oversubscribed. The Outreach Program is grateful for the enthusiastic and generous support of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, the FAS Center for Systems Biology, the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and the greater Harvard community in making spring program such a robust educational opportunity for so many area teenagers.

For information about becoming a spring teaching fellow for Life Sciences Outreach, please contact Program Manager Tara Bennett (tbennett@fas.harvard.edu). Information about all Outreach Programs can be found at www.outreach.mcb.harvard.edu.