Biomedical graduate students take science on the road

Worcester seventh graders experiment with professional scientists

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

April 19, 2012

Each spring during Innovation Month in the Worcester Public Schools, the Regional Science Resource Center (RSCR) conducts a series of events that expose middle school students to future career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in a way that is fun and engaging.

Many local middle schools students have enjoyed educational field trips to UMass Medical School, the Ecotarium and computer-chip maker Intel Corporation as part of Innovation Month. But on Thursday, April 12, the field trip came to the middle schools, as graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences conducted hands-on science experiments in seventh grade classrooms across the city.

Outfitted with all the laboratory equipment and supplies needed for the experiment, GSBS students Heidi Malaby, Andrew Malaby, Ankita Bansal, School of Medicine student and MD/PhD candidate Beth Baratta, and postdoctoral fellow Sandra Vergara, PhD, taught kids at University Park Campus School how to extract DNA from an onion—a simple yet elegant technique that connects everyday objects to scientific discovery and makes something seemingly abstract real. In addition to plenty of candy with which the Malabys rewarded students who asked questions throughout the class, each student got to bring home a plastic pipette filled with a big wad of onion DNA to show and tell their families what they learned about cell biology, genetics, biochemistry, and what real scientists look and sound like.

“The kids get to know researchers who are personable and ready to have fun with them, putting a face on what they do,” said University Park science teacher Caitie Dwyer-Huppert. “It’s an exciting lab that they remember and talk about.” Indeed, among many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ as the experiment progressed, one voice was heard saying, “This is the best lab we’ve ever had!”

GSBS students and postdoctoral fellows who taught at University Park Campus School and Claremont Academy were:
  • Eric Anderson, lab of Melissa Moore, PhD, Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology
  • Ankita Bansal, lab of Heidi Tissenbaum, PhD, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program
  • Beth Baratta, MD/PhD student currently in School of Medicine
  • Xianjun Dong, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, lab of Zhiping Weng, PhD, Bioinformatics & Integrated Biology
  • Amanda Hughes, lab of Oliver Rando, MD, PhD, Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology
  • Andrew Malaby, lab of David Lambright, PhD, Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology
  • Heidi Malaby, lab of William Kobertz, PhD, Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology
  • Steven Pauff, lab Stephen Miller, PhD, Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology
  • Yukio Shimasaki, MD, PhD, postdoctoral associate, Department of Medicine, Cardiology
  • Guramrit Singh, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, lab of Melissa Moore, PhD, Biochemistry& Molecular Pharmacology
  • Sean Smirnov, MD/PhD student, lab of Silvia Corvera, MD, Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology
  • Sandra Vergara, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, lab of Craig Mello, PhD, Program in Molecular Medicine

Related links on UMassMedNow:
Spring means science and math for middle schools
Engaging young women and men in science
GSBS students inspire with their love of science