NSF Grant Links High School Seniors with Hands-on Science

Paige Brooks and Abigail Dove peer into their microscopes in the newly renovated Thomas Hall lab. The two recent graduates of Perkiomen Valley High School have spent several weeks this summer in the Senior Career Study Program. This innovative program offers a hands-on opportunity for students to study in a career of interest the last month of their high school career.

“Both students have performed many experiments and have learned the techniques of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) for amplifying DNA, gel electrophoresis, genetic crosses, preparation of agar plates and buffers, and have learned laboratory safety measures,” says research technician Eva Jaeger, who works in the lab of  Biology Professor Rebecca Lyczak doing experiments, mentoring students, and managing the lab.

“They have mastered the ‘art’of  working with living, moving worms and can
identify the various larval stages and can distinguish a male worm from the
more common hermaphrodite. They have been enthusiastic learners and seem to really be enjoying their experience on our campus,” says Jaeger. Brooks, and Dove, who is her class valedictorian, plan to major in neuroscience in college.

This laboratory work is funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation. “The grant’s two goals include uncovering the mechanisms of polarity establishment in the early C.elegans embryo, and training future scientists,” says Lyczak who has
funding through a NSF grant to study the PAM-1 protein. The protein is crucial
for the establishment of the anterior-posterior establishment in C. elegans,
a soil nematode that is an ideal organism for the study of developmental
genetics. Lyczak was recently awarded the Laughlin Professional Achievement
award, which recognizes “significant contributions to scholarship.”

In the past three years of the grant, numerous undergraduate researchers have been involved, Lyczak says. “The link we have established with Perkiomen Valley High School to bring students here on career study, has now allowed us to expand our educational reach and engage high school students in our ongoing research projects.”