Through the Fairchild Challenge Summer Internship I worked with two high school students in the molecular lab at Fairchild for six weeks. These two interns were selected from a pool of applicants from all Miami-Dade schools, but attend BioTECH, Miami’s only botany and zoology magnet school. BioTECH students spend part of their freshman year working at Zoo Miami and at Fairchild and in their sophomore year they choose either a botany or zoology track curriculum that they pursue through their senior year. The curriculum is project based learning, and students work alongside researchers and mentors at these institutions. The Fairchild Challenge Summer Internship gave these two students the opportunity to work along side me and learn the molecular techniques that have been the basis of my Ph.D. research.
They learned how to extract plant DNA from leaves, use PCR to target specific gene regions, Cycle Sequencing to get the DNA sequence of the targeted gene region and were introduced to next-generation sequencing. We started right off the bat with several other incoming interns and had a pipetting workshop which Christina Burns, lab manager of the FIU forensics lab, helped to teach. Students learned that accuracy is important when pipetting very small amounts. They practiced pipetting viscous solutions (vegetable oil) and soapy solutions with lots of bubbles. To introduce the idea of making a master mix, which is essential when doing molecular work, we had a make believe “Super Lame Brownie Party”. Ingredients were split between each guest so that they could make their own brownie. Obviously this is a terrible idea because how do you split up an egg between 10 guests? Making one batch and mixing all of the ingredients first makes things much easier.
Summertime at Fairchild means the garden is full of kids, our very own summer campers and lots of others visiting with their families. This means lots of kiddos wondering what we do in the labs at Fairchild. My high school interns got many opportunities to practice communicating their science, which to me is one of the most important aspects of being a scientist—being able to assess your audience and effectively tell them what you do and why it matters. Very shy at first, it was wonderful to watch my two interns come out of their shells and explain the complex concepts involved in some of the molecular techniques we use. They nailed their final presentation which was open to the public with many parents and teachers interested in what they had been up to all summer.
When one summer camp group was asked to draw a scientist, we were all surprised to see a plant biologist with a Plumeria plant!