Five Westtown students are pursuing sophisticated scientific research as a part of their regular course of studies. Two of these young women are working together to continue a project begun the year before by two students. The other three young women are pursuing new individual projects. Science Department Chair Dawn Lovejoy supervises the girls in the lab, helps guide them through the process and serves as facilitator for them in their partnerships with outside organizations. This course is a part of Westtown’s redesign of its science curriculum. Guided by the school’s mission, the department decided to revamp the curriculum to insure that all students were grounded in both physics and chemistry in year one and biology and ecology in year two. The program then allows students to pursue individualized paths through the program in a variety of semester long courses. Other major considerations in the redesign were using the school’s 600 acre campus and conducting meaningful research. Applied Scientific Research is the capstone experience in this new model.
While each of these are very different in focus, the girls shared with me the ways in which their experiences are very similar. First and foremost, the actual doing of experiments is a very small part of their time. Conducting a literature search, reading the work of related researchers, establishing protocols, planning the experiments, and waiting for responses from outside partners make up most of how they have spent their time. One of the girls opined that you needed to be patient. Another stated that you had to trust your intuition and back it up with lots of research. Still another said that it helps to be really sure of what you are doing and be open to learning otherwise. Each agreed that being self-accountable and self-disciplined was critical. Each girl also felt that her previous years’ study had grounded her in the necessary scientific understanding but that the learning in the lab had taken them well beyond what they had learned in the classroom. What follows are brief descriptions of the girls’ projects. Hopefully, you will gain a greater sense of what is possible with the right facilities and preparation.
Marisa is conducting a cancer drug trial. Using a CHO cell line (Chinese Hamster Ovary), she is first replicating a 1992 experiment using the drug Taxol to test its effectiveness as an anti-cancer agent. Once she has established a baseline using this experiment and has gotten results, she will repeat the experiment with a different drug called Epothilone B. Epothilone B is much more water soluble than Taxol, for this reason it should have fewer adverse side effects and should require a smaller dose for treatment. Marisa got the idea for her research from learning about microtubules in Biology 1 as a junior, and combining that with her experience as an intern at a biotechnology company, Morphotek.
Claudia and Jie are continuing the research begun by Ted and Alex last year. They are looking at how the tolerance to morphine builds over time. Specifically, they are looking at two proteins and their possible relationship to this increasing tolerance. In this work they are partnering with Heather Baseshore, Ph.D. of the Coatesville VA, Tom Ferraro, PhD. of Rowan Medical College and Karin Abarca, PhD. of Rockland Immunochemicals. Drs. Baseshore and Ferraro have provided the tissue samples while Dr. Abarca provides support by allowing use of advanced visualization equipment.
Molly is working with a professor/researcher at Rutgers University to look at the predator prey relationship between starfish, whelk, and scallops. Using data collected by Habcam, Molly is assessing conditional probabilities of different interactions between the populations
Julia is working toward splicing the gene that makes jellyfish glow and a gene that is sensitive to heat into a plasmid which will be used to transform bacteria. The hope is that bacteria transformed in this way can be used as a sort of biologic canary in the coal mine, alerting us to toxins in the environment.