One hand holding a chromatography column (think chemistry tube), one holding a pencil-size UV light, Gilbert student Alya Perez squealed Thursday as a green glow appeared at the bottom of the glass container.
“We did it!” she yelled. Her class partner, Gilbert student Megan Peak, exclaimed, “I’ve never been so excited in my life.”
The two teens had successfully cloned a glowing protein after a failed attempt earlier in the week.
Their experiment was the culmination of two weeks of biotechnology work they dived into at ASU Polytechnic as part of the Prime the Pipeline research project. The project brings teachers and students together with Arizona State University faculty, staff and students to learn a number of subjects — from technology like film making and engineering to science and aviation — in an effort to develop their interests.
In place since spring 2009, the Prime the Pipeline Project (P3) is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
The 20 participants in Biotechnology: Forensics and DNA Fingerprinting, taught by Chandler-Gilbert Community College professor Pushpa Ramakrishna, were divided into groups to conduct experiments. They looked at protein purification, genetically altered crops, crime scene science, replicating proteins and more.
“It was hands-on, majorly,” said Highland High School’s Perez, 17. “It was fun that way, working with teachers. It was nice to be on the same playing field.”
For Perez, the program solidified her desire to study marine biology.
“I never knew what it would be like working in a real lab, but now, I’ve found my calling,” she said.
The teachers took away lessons of their own, said Alicia Abel, a science instructor at Apache Junction High School.
“I learned a lot about what students are capable of. I would like to do a lot more project based learning,” in her own classroom, Abel said. “I think it makes it fun. That’s the key point. I think it gives them more pride for what they’re doing.”
Abel’s group studied pGlo transformation: taking a glowing gene from a jellyfish and attaching it to bacteria. In science, the glowing marker could then be attached to a specific gene to create a genetic marker, she said, which could confirm a successful gene transfer.
The crime scene group was given the task to discover who had “murdered” their teacher. The group used DNA fingerprinting to find the culprit among other members of the program.
The fun part, said Highland High School science teacher Shiloh Carroll, was using equipment not usually available in a high-school setting.
Taking DNA collected from hair samples of the “suspect,” the group multiplied it using a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machine.
Those additional DNA samples were then analyzed to find the DNA fingerprint, which is more accurate in solving crimes than fingerprints from a hand — and often more available.
“It’s not as easy as they show on TV,” said Blake Francis, 17, a student at Mesa’s Red Mountain High School. “It takes a lot of work. You have to take the time. It’s something I might try in college.”