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Students Explore New Frontiers in Science and Medicine

7th grade students spend day in labWearing white lab coats and safety gloves, nearly 600 Montgomery County Public School seventh graders spent an October day at Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus learning about radioactive foods, clinical trials, blood types, DNA testing, pH levels and a variety of other topics related to science and medicine.

The students, seventh graders from Gaithersburg and Loiederman middle schools, were participating in the 5th annual Frontiers in Science & Medicine Day. Frontiers is a collaborative effort among organizations in the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center to make science come alive to students who may be just beginning to think about what they want to be when they grow up.

The hallmark of Frontiers is its focus on hands-on science and medicine. So rather than learning from text books, students had a chance to use real lab equipment, such as pipettes and microscopes.  (Video)

“We have a large concentration of bioscience companies in Montgomery County,” said Barbara Crews, special projects manager for Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus. “We want to get students excited early. What they learn in the classroom really comes to life, and it is happening right here where they live.”

Students spent part of the day at Johns Hopkins, where they participated in hands-on science and medicine activities. They spent the other part of the day visiting a local laboratory or hospital so they could experience what doctors and scientists do each day. Three of the companies located on the Johns Hopkins campus participated: Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute; TruBio and TissueGene. The Johns Hopkins Center for Biotechnology Education also opened its wet lab to the students.

Lab activities included learning how DNA is used in forensics; watching mosquitoes feed on blood to learn about malaria; and learning about proper techniques for making intravenous preparations.

“They can see what scientists are really doing in the field locally,” said Amy Gensemer, supervisor of science, technology and engineering for the Montgomery County Public Schools. “This gets them excited for science in the classroom.”

Student doing researchScientists from BioReliance, a company that tests the safety of drugs and chemicals before they are brought to market, told students to pretend that someone had been brought to the emergency room after sustaining injuries in a car crash. The fictional patient needed blood, and four of the patient’s friends were willing to donate. Using fake blood and synthetic serums, students were able to determine which friend would be the best match.

Jane Clarke, principal scientists for genetic toxicology for BioReliance, said she hopes Frontiers sparks “a sense of discovery for the kids.”

At TissueGene, students learned how to design a research experiment. They learned the Students learning in labimportance of developing a hypothesis and having controls and variables. Research associate Rebecca Rossmaier said she hoped the students walked away with the knowledge that “science isn’t this far-reaching thing. There’s science and biology with me every day.”

Roberto Trujillo, president and chief executive of TruBios, led students through a mock clinical trial to determine the best drug to use against a fictitious zombie virus. Trujillo talked about how his company conducts clinical trials and is trying to develop medical devices that would cure some cancers.

Several students said they enjoyed stepping out of their regular classrooms and spending the day in science labs.

Aminah Moody of Loiederman Middle School, said she has wanted to be a scientist since she was four years old. Aminah’s interest in cell biology was prompted by her grandmother’s death from cancer, she said.

“I want to get a cure for that,” Aminah said. Of Frontiers, she said, “it’s hands on. You get to do the real thing.”

Annabelle Headley of Gaithersburg Middle School said she is a budding marine biologist. She visited the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute lab during her day at Johns Hopkins. She said she enjoyed using pipettes and learning more about Alzheimer’s disease, which is currently afflicting her grandmother.

People learning from expert“I love science,” Annabelle said. “I just like figuring stuff out and making new discoveries. I love doing experiments.”

Alexander Sletten of Loiederman Middle School said he has long wanted to be a scientist, perhaps a chemist. He said he heard a lot at Frontiers about how the years of education often needed to land a good job in a science-related field.

Stewart Edelstein, executive director of The Universities of Shady Grove, was pleased to partner with Johns Hopkins and other organizations on Frontiers.

“It is inspiring to see the students enjoying and learning from these hands-on experiences in science,” Edelstein said, “and exciting to know that the interest generated this day will grow into the pursuit of further education and help energize our community’s next generation of science and health professionals.”