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Up to the (Pipette) Challenge

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The pipettes, Jake Krygowski said, are as expensive as an Xbox or Nintendo system.

That statement caught the attention of the seventh graders in science classes at Poole Middle School.

Krygowski was one of three students in the Johns Hopkins University Health Science Intensive program who volunteered in September to teach a younger generation how to use pipettes to move liquid from one tube to another. HSI students, along with staff members from JHU and MD Bio Foundation, fanned out to two Montgomery County middle schools to teach seventh-grade students how to use equipment that is more common in a science lab than in a middle school classroom. In addition to Poole Middle School in Poolesville, the exercise was held at Kingsview Middle School in Germantown.

During the pipette challenge, students learned how to use micropipettes by holding the equipment, drawing liquid and releasing it into test tubes.

Once they got the hang of the technique, students followed a series of directions, putting different amounts of colored liquid into different test tubes to create the visible light spectrum. They mixed red, blue and yellow solutions to make the colors of the rainbow. They also reviewed the metric system, practiced math skills and learned that a micropipette measures liquids as small as millionths of a liter.

The exercise was held in preparation for Frontiers in Science & Medicine Day in October, when approximately 500 students will travel to the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, including the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus, for a day of hands-on activities and tours.  Approximately 4,500 seventh graders have participated in Frontiers since its inception nine years ago.

The pipette challenge is designed to prepare the students for their day in science labs and to show students real-world applications of what they learn in school.

“The activity was an excellent link to the STEM opportunities students have to look forward to as career possibilities,” said Poole Middle science teacher Shari Yesnick. “It was great for my students to use the higher quality micropipettes and hear from professionals that use the tool every day.  Real life connections are important to student motivation.”

Most of the students in the JHU Health Science Intensive program – who are earning masters’ degrees in biotechnology and have their sights on medical school -- only recently received their undergraduate degrees, so they were able to relate well to the middle school students.

Krygowski talked to the seventh graders about how pipettes are used in making medications. Anita Cheung, who studied bioengineering as an undergraduate before enrolling in HSI, explained how pipettes are used when precision is necessary, such as working with genes. Kenny Tran discussed using micropipettes when he did neuroscience research on brain tissue. 

The lessons resonated with the middle school children.

“Thank you so much for coming and helping us lean about micropipetting,” one seventh-grade student said. “I had so much fun and I can't wait to do it again!”

CATEGORY: Academics, K-12 Outreach, In The Community