YOUR DONATIONS AT WORK:
Biotechnology & Life Sciences Lab
Dr. Andrea Cobb, Biotechnology Lab Director, explains why her lab is the most sophisticated high school biotechnology lab in the country:
“Thanks to generous private donations over the years, our Lab was already equipped with several advanced devices that exist at few — or no — other high schools, for example, a flow cytometer, Sonifier, and real-time polymerase chain reaction (RTPCR) thermocycler.
“However, the renovation and accompanying Campaign for TJ has helped us quickly acquire some truly exciting new pieces of equipment, including:
hands-free faucets for maintaining aseptic technique;
two new environmental growth chambers for algae and plant research;
a bioanalyzer, aka “Lab on a Chip,” which can characterize the concentration, size, and quality of up to a dozen tiny samples of proteins, RNA or DNA simultaneously as a preparatory step for further analysis;
a proteomics system, which sorts proteins from an organism or cell type by pH and then by molecular weight, with software that identifies biomarkers and modified proteins and quantifies proteins whose levels have changed relative to constitutive proteins;
a deep-well quantitative RTPCR system, which can process twice as many samples as the Lab’s older unit, for analyzing products of stem cells, genetic mutations, and variations in gene expression;
and a personal genome machine (PGM) and accompanying preparatory and analytical tools (at right and above). The PGM can simultaneously sequence millions of DNA fragments; in two hours, it can sequence what the human genome project took 15 years and a billion dollars to accomplish! Our students can ask and answer medically related questions, environmental questions, help understand issues involved in world hunger as well as gather basic scientific data. We are unique in our ability to do this as a high school. The PGM experiments can allow us to open a door for not only our students, but other schools to participate in the surging citizen science movement!
“However, a biotechnology research lab of this caliber is not complete without state-of-the-art microscopes critical for visualizing cellular processes. Still on our Needs List are a live cell fluorescence microscope and a confocal microscope, both of which are to be shared with the Neuroscience, Oceanography, and Quantum Physics Labs. To get the most out of these expensive and sensitive microscopes we also need new computers with high-end imaging capability and training on both systems for the staff of all four research labs.
“I’d also like to mention that I’m particularly excited about the potential impact on our lab of the School’s planned collaborative research network, JCIRN. Students could make excellent use of an online network of qualified, vetted, willing advisors for their research. They could also profit from tutorials on advanced techniques and use of specialized equipment. The possibilities really are endless.”
Automation & Robotics Lab
Charles dela Cuesta, Robotics Lab Director, discusses what he appreciates most about his new Lab:
“My goal has always been to be able to give those kids who are really passionate about robotics a place where their ideas can come to life. I can already see the ways in which the new facility is empowering those kids while also encouraging more interest in the subject across the board.
“Robotics is at the intersection of several disciplines – design, electronics, programming, prototyping, and systems engineering. Students use CAD to design the robot, programming to tell it what to do, prototyping to build the housing, and electronics and systems engineering to build the components. Our Lab attracts programmers who want something more tangible to work with and electronics types who want to go beyond the circuit board. There’s a lot of overlap with students who are interested in prototyping, and a lot of collaboration with that Lab. The multi-disciplinary nature of the work means that ideally a group of kids with different interests works together on a robot.
“I’m very excited about finally having some space that we can devote to robot testing. In our old Lab, every time students needed to test a robot, they had to move desks, equipment, and projects out of the way, mark off the space, and introduce whatever obstacles or other items the robot needed to work with. Now we have devoted project space, testing space, and instructional space. With our 10-foot ceiling (plus several feet above the rafters) we can accommodate taller robots, taller robot goals/obstacles, and flying robots, with the added benefit that we also have what may be the most pleasant working environment anywhere in the building.
“We’re making good use of our new power tools and laser cutter. We’re still hoping to acquire some more fabricating equipment. Of course, we appreciate the specialized lab benches, storage shelving, and other furniture we were able to acquire thanks to Campaign for TJ donations. These important components define our various spaces and turn our warehouse-sized room into a research lab.”