division 3

From the JP Gazette: Students Complete Grant-Funded Biotechnology Lab at Meridian Academy

By Division 3 student Izzy

Originally published in the JP Gazette.

On a Tuesday morning in January, the father of one of my classmates sat us all down in our science lab to ask us questions that most of us could not answer. We didn’t know at the time that this was the beginning of an engrossing week of experimentation about biotechnology.

Biotechnology is one of the most helpful and impressive advances in science, in which genes can be cloned and proteins expressed for specific purposes. For example, the protein-digesting power of household laundry detergent often comes from proteins called proteases, and patients with diabetes are commonly treated with insulin, both of which are commonly produced through biotechnology.  In our class, we were going to clone the gene found in jellyfish that make them glow green (green fluorescent protein) and the gene found in coral that makes them blue (midorishi cyan fluorescent protein).

I should mention here that I’m in 10th grade. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to clone jellyfish and coral genes as a teenager, but that kind of work isn’t really uncommon at Meridian Academy, where I go to school. Our learning is often based in the surrounding community, and our teachers love including new technologies and resources in their classrooms.

On the first day of the lab, we divided into teams of two, snapped on our safety gloves, and started the long and meticulous process that would last all week. The lab required many complex techniques. We started with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) which is a process of denaturing a double-strand of DNA by heating it up, adding a gene-specific primer, and then lowering the temperature to create multiple copies of the DNA sequence. On day two, it was time to test whether our efforts from the previous day had worked. Using a technique called agarose gel electrophoresis, we were able to tell if our DNA sequences had made successful copies. If so, we then moved on to the process of cloning the DNA into a construct known as a plasmid that would express the gene we copied. The next day, we all came in ready for the last day of experimentation, in which we transformed the plasmid into an E. coli bacteria, plated the results and then left them overnight. In the morning, we placed the bacteria under a black light and saw the bright green glow of the protein.

It was a true privilege to be a part of this five-day lab. Thanks to a grant from the Program on Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, we were provided with technology and resources that most teenagers never get a chance to even learn about. Students were able to see their hard work glowing brightly under a blue light at the end of the week, and it felt incredibly rewarding to know that all of the painfully specific pipetting and attention to detail had paid off. I came away with a new appreciation of both what biotechnology makes possible in the world, and how this complex field of science works. I hope that more students get to have this kind of classroom experience in the future.

Fitting Functions to a Bear: Trimester 1 Exhibitions

By Division 3 student Mara

Three times a year, Meridian students show the public the work they’ve been doing throughout the trimester. In each class, students present their projects and their peers’ projects to all sorts of visitors. As a new 9th grader at Meridian, I experienced my very first Exhibitions in early December.

In the weeks leading up to Exhibitions, we had a lot of work to finish, and I was specifically excited to present my Functions of Art project. For this project, we needed to create and fit algebraic functions to a work of art, and it was the first time I had ever applied math to a creative piece like that. For my project, I looked at a work of art called “As it Comes to Bear” by Venetia Dale and fit functions to create a bear like the one in the piece.

On the day of Exhibitions, I felt nervous but prepared. I had heard a lot about the event, but I was still not 100% sure about what to expect. It began with a performance from musicians in classes ranging from singing to composition to our school band. I was excited to hear all the original music that students wrote, along with new arrangements of songs that I knew well.

After the music, it was time to go to my classes and present my work. I was worried that I might not have anyone to talk to, but each room included many visitors, and they all wanted to hear from students about what we’d learned. During the evening, I was able to talk to several visitors and families, and it was a completely new experience for me to tell people I didn’t know about my work.

I also talked to other students about their projects, and it was really interesting to see and explore their learning and ideas. When I was in the art room, I talked with Jo, a 12th grader, about a shirt she had made in her Sewing class. Like my Functions of Art project, Jo had to apply practical skills to make this creative piece, and it was neat to see how projects in different classes can use such similar skills.

Exhibitions was really different than other presenting experiences I have participated in, and I’m excited to do it again in March!

You Think School is Hard Work?

By 10th grader Eric

On Wednesday, October 10, the Division 3 students went on a field trip to Lowell Mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. As part of the Industrial Revolution unit, students learn about how 19th century factories worked, and what life was like for the workers both before and during the revolution. My experience going to Lowell Mills was very different from what I had expected. I had expected to walk through museum galleries for hours, looking at photographs, documents, and scaled-down models. The experience was much more than just a museum. For the first part of the day, we experienced the “Workers on a Line” program. This program was designed to simulate a 19th century factory. We dressed up in aprons and clocked in. Each of us was assigned a position on an assembly line, making “tea towels.” It was very difficult and stressful work, containing faulty machinery, low pay (we were paid in “Boott Bucks,” named after mill owner Kirk Boott), and a very strict boss! In the end, we formed a union and negotiated better working conditions. I am a strong believer that the best learning comes from experience, and the simulation certainly supplied that.

After having lunch, we walked through a museum for about 15 minutes. The museum was nothing like I was expecting. There were full-scale machines that had been in industrial factories, as well as plenty of hands-on activities, so visitors could try their hand at the type of work that was done in the factories. One of the final parts was what really did it for me. Before we left, we passed through a functional factory floor. The first thing that hit me was the noise. There were about a hundred machines in the room, and there were only about 15 running, but it sounded to me like all 100 were running! I can’t imagine what the sound must have been like when the factory was fully operational. What also fascinated me was the complexity of the machines. Each machine was a huge mass of belts, gears, and metal. Although the machinery was entirely automated, just seeing the machines made me imagine what it would be like working there, with constant noise, cramped workspaces, and dangerous complex machines. Overall, the experience of being at the mills helped me gain insight about workers during the industrial revolution, much more so than learning about the same concepts from a textbook or in a quiet classroom. Lowell is something you have to see – and hear – to believe.