High School Students Learn Hands-On Science Techniques in Lab Class
By extracting DNA from leaves, students could see how DNA could be cleanly isolated from plant tissue.
By learning about polymerase chain reaction, students learned an essential laboratory technique that makes replication take place in a test tube.
By visiting TissueGene, a company on campus, students heard about the costs and challenges of cutting-edge research into knee osteoarthritis.
Nine high school students, mostly from around the area, visited Johns Hopkins University this summer to take a two-week summer lab class. Taught by Larissa Diaz, lab manager at the Montgomery County Campus, students learned their way around a teaching lab while earning college credit.
The course previously has been offered on the Homewood campus, and this was the second summer it was offered at the Montgomery County Campus.
Lecture topics focused on the principles of molecular biology and how genes function in cells. The goal of the class was to highlight the laboratory research behind medicine, agriculture, the environment and biotechnology. Students learned how to use a variety of equipment and were introduced to applications of bioinformatics software in a lab setting as well as gel electrophoresis.
“I really hope they walk away from the course with some hands-on molecular lab experience, and an understanding of how scientists are able to not only learn about how processes occur in nature but harness this information to develop tools that allow further research, innovation, products and techniques that make our lives better,” Diaz said. “If they have this understanding, they will walk around not only viewing science as a lot of information to memorize but as a collection of a lot of interesting processes to understand, which can be applied to useful purposes.”
That was the purpose of the field trip across campus to TissueGene, where students heard from Moon John Noh, vice president of research and development. He explained the “bench to bedside” development of taking a drug from lab to market and talked about the start of clinical trials for Invossa, a drug that would cure knee osteoarthritis.
The class has appealed to students interested in pursuing careers in science as well as students who aren’t too sure. Michael Pierre, 16, is a rising junior at Gaithersburg High School, thinking about a career in chemistry or as a physical trainer. Learning about science in a lab will help him either way, he said. Meanwhile, Harrison Schurr, 15, a rising sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, said he’s “not really a science person, but I enjoy doing hands-on lab experiments.” He is considering a career in computer programming.
With the experience they gain in the lab, Diaz said, students can be well equipped to pursue careers in research, medicine, biotechnology, genetic counseling, agriculture, business and pharmaceuticals, among other areas.
“What makes this class unique is that even if students do not pursue science, they will have a better understanding of how molecular biology has been incorporated into their lives,” Diaz said. “Some of these students have never lived in a world where the human genome was not sequenced, DNA was not admissible evidence in court and they could have a simple blood test to find out if they have an infection.”