Professor Justin Golub demonstrates how to use a pipette for Drury High School students doing a DNA experiment at MCLA.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Some 20 Drury High School students got a lesson in working with DNA on Thursday at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
The ninth- and 10th-graders from Morgan Shafer's honors biology class were taken step by step through the process of cutting DNA by professors Ann Billetz and Justin Golub in one of the new state-of-the-art labs in the Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation.
"Basically what they're doing is cutting DNA with three different enzymes so when they run them through gel electrophoresis they will see the DNA fragment," said Billetz, chairman of the science department. "So the idea is if you were doing this in a real-life experience you can compare DNA samples to see if they match or not.
"You can cut DNA out of one organism and put it in another, you can put human DNA in bacteria and make them express human proteins."
That's the kind of laboratory experience they wouldn't get at Drury, said Shafer. The school has an electrophoresis machine but it's only for the Advance Placement class. Bringing the freshmen and sophomores to MCLA let them see wider possibilities.
"I want them to get really interested in upper-level science and also to see what our local college has to experience," said Shafer. "And also just to get some real-world lab experience besides just our labs that we get to do at the high school."
Billetz was eager to show the students the lab's capabilities and gave them a tour of the building in during the waiting period in the experiment. "I love this place," she said, compared to her old lab, it was "like leaving a high school room for a research facility."
So for these students, it was a chance to get out of their high school room "to get to see a new really, cool facility that has the high-tech stuff," said Shafer. "They've been excited about it all week."
And they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Freshman Chase Christopher was a man of few words, but indicated he was enjoying the lab — and a change of scenery from Drury. "Yes," he said, nodding his head.
Jocelyn Hunt, another freshman, was enjoying the experience, too.
"It's interesting. At Drury you wouldn't have the chance to do something like this," she said. "It's fun to experiment and stuff like that."
She's not sure yet where her interests lie but is planning on college. "I think it would be worth it to go to college just for like the labs and stuff because it's really fun," Jocelyn said.
This trip came about because a student's father who works in the building suggested it and Shafer would like more opportunities to connect her students to the college. Billetz is open to it — she's hosted classes from other schools but her two daughters go to Drury and Clarksburg School.
"For me, doing something for the community is important and considering that we send a fair number of our students to MCLA from the schools, the better education they get ... makes my life better," the professor laughed.
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