In the cold ocean waters of the Pacific Northwest lives a famous jellyfish called Aequorea victoria (the crystal jelly).
When excited, this jellyfish produces intense flashes of blue and green light by means of Green Florescent Protein (GFP) – a protein that has become critical in biological research.
This summer, a group of about 40 high school students will work intensely with GFP at Gann Academy in Waltham as part of the Boston University School of Medicine’s SummerLab Biotechnology program. “Go for the Glow” runs daily from July 15 to 19 and introduces students to central concepts and skills of recombinant DNA technology as it applies to biotechnology.
SummerLab is open to high school students and offers both day and boarding options.
“This isn’t just for Gann students, though some of our own students have already enrolled. SummerLab is ideal for high schoolers interested in an authentic research laboratory experience,” said Rabbi Marc Baker, Head of School. “We’re excited to partner with the BU School of Medicine to serve as the MetroWest location for SummerLab and to bring this opportunity to the Waltham and MetroWest community.”
SummerLab’s focus on GFP is not arbitrary. One of the key challenges in biotechnology research involves tracking and visualizing the expression of genes. By adding the GFP gene to the DNA of modified cells, scientists can quite literally see the processes of gene expression, lysis (the splitting of cells and DNA) and purification, simply by observing the cell under a microscope with ultraviolet light.
But refining GFP for use as a genetic tag or marker is no small task. The original technique was developed by the discoverers of GFP – BU School of Medicine Professor Emeritus Osamu Shimomura, along with Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien. The team was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery and subsequent work on extracting and purifying the protein for use as a biological research tool.
At SummerLab, participating students will be challenged to improve on the current state of the art.
“You never know what can happen in a SummerLab. These are the kinds of experiences that provide the spark for original future research,” said Joshua Neudel, Chair of the Gann Academy Science Department and of the 21st Century Learning and STEM Initiative. “Several Gann students have participated in BU School of Medicine lab programs and this summer one of our students is now interning with a BU research team.
“SummerLab participants will develop real lab skills and practice techniques that are used in advanced research. But what’s most valuable is that they get to ask real questions – novel questions – and design their own experiments. This isn’t about the confirmation of what science already knows – this is about genuine experimentation and discovery.”
Neudel noted that such lab experience has benefits that go beyond the scientific. “Participating students learn how to keep lab notebooks, develop poster sessions, communicate their ideas effectively and collaborate with others,” he said. “They make connections with professional scientists and reflect on what it really means to do research.
“For Gann, it’s a natural fit. Our approach of education emphasizes hands-on experiential learning. Our Science Department stresses the development of both critical and scientific ways of thinking and learning. And over the years, during the project weeks and internships that are part of our program, Gann students have regularly participated in BU School of Medicine’s science programs. We know how good they are.”
The academy expects seven or eight Gann students who have a strong interest in life sciences to participate in the on-campus SummerLab this year – and a Gann alumnus is providing scholarships. During the 2013-14 school year, Gann will also offer a new senior elective in biotechnology, which many of the participating students will take.
“I’m especially delighted to have our students collaborating with and working alongside young scientists from other school[s],” Neudel said. “SummerLab students come from a variety of backgrounds. What they share is an intense interest in scientific research, and that’s exciting.”
SummerLab students have the option of boarding on campus at Boston University for the week. Living in the well-supervised residence halls gives students a peek at the college experience and BU’s residential life staff plans a variety of social activities that encourage students to make new friends. A free shuttle provides transportation to the Gann campus each day.
SummerLab expects to enroll a maximum of 40 students and there are still spaces for interested students. The fee for the weeklong program is $1,000 for day students and $1,363 for residential students. Scholarships are available.
Admission to the program is by application. Students are accepted on a rolling basis and registration is still open.
The Boston University program will include students from Gann Academy and other institutions
This story, a special to the advocate written by Laura Ayer and Mari Badger, is cross-posted from The Jewish Advocate. Ayer is Director of Marketing and Communications at Gann Academy. Badger, a freelance writer for Gann, works for Noodle + Scribble Marketing Strategy and Creative Services.
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