Monday, April 11, 2011

ECBC Microbiologist Shows Seniors at Aberdeen High School Science in Action

Looking to bring Advanced Placement (AP) biology textbook concepts to life for more than 30 seniors at Aberdeen High School (AHS) March 16, Research Microbiologist Lauren McNew from the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) opened the doors to the world of genetics, DNA sampling and genome sequencing. 

“The research we do at ECBC helps develop detection technologies that can, for example, test particles in the air,” McNew said. “Our main focus is to unburden the warfighters in their environment and protect them from injuries the best we can."

During her presentation, McNew gave students a historical overview of significant research findings in the genetics field and discussed scientific processes such as pulling DNA from cells, transforming non-virulent into virulent bacteria and replicating DNA.

“You guys are learning a lot of advanced concepts that I studied in graduate school,” she said.
In addition to teaching the AP biology class students about the rapid changes in the science of biology, McNew focused on the enormous advancements in her area of expertise at ECBC, genomics.

“I run a [DNA] sequencing center, where we sequence samples of many different organisms in a very short period of time,” she said. “Today’s technology has made it possible to characterize the DNA of agents like anthrax in less than 10 hours.”

As a passionate expert in her field, one of McNew’s highest goals is to share her enthusiasm for DNA-sequencing with potential future science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals.

Her guest lecture, which was sponsored by the National Defense Education Program, also engaged AHS seniors in an interactive science quiz, similar to Jeopardy, to reinforce the understanding of biology concepts discussed during their AP biology class and McNew’s educational briefing.

"I really enjoyed the presentation. I've always enjoyed learning about genetics and about how to retrieve DNA," AHS senior Taylore Greico said. "She went into depth on how DNA separates and mingles, and I'm actually going to thank her for this valuable experience."

According to AHS Science Department Chair and AP Biology Teacher Christine Zatalava, this educational outreach initiative afforded her class the opportunity to learn about the real-world connection between genetics taught as a part of AP biology and genomics research conducted as a scientific discipline to help protect the warfighter and homeland against potential chemical and biological threats.

"This experience allowed my students to see science in action and to see a community connection that allows them to stay in the local area [while pursuing an exciting and rewarding STEM career pathway],” Zatalava said. "I can definitely say that they all had fun."

Invited to participate in this STEM enhancement opportunity, students from AHS’s Science and Math Academy (SMA) commended the value of this inquiry-based activity and proactively engaged in the questions and answers after the presentation.

“I thought this presentation was very interesting,” SMA student Kalliopi Drakos said. “I love learning more about DNA structure, function and replication.” 

Photo Caption: After briefing AHS seniors on genetics, DNA sampling and genome sequencing, ECBC Research Microbiologist Lauren McNew engages Advanced Placement (AP) biology students in an interactive science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) quiz. (Photo credit: Jennifer Carroll, U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center)

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