By Brandon HENSLEY
The Crescenta Valley High School cafeteria was buzzing last Friday afternoon – not with hungry eaters, but with eager science students showing off their knowledge of biotechnology.
Students from the La Cañada High School Biology Institute and the CV Biotech Boot Camp were there for the first Biotech Showcase, installing displays throughout the cafeteria demonstrating what they’ve learned so far in biotechnology.
Biotechnology is the use of living organisms or components to modify a product, explained CV science teacher Orenda Tuason.
Tuason leads a summer class in biotechnology, but before attending, students must get through a 10-day boot camp. It begins with learning how to use all of the lab equipment and ends with making recombinant DNA, which takes one piece of DNA and combines it with another strand.
“The goal is to transform, to change a non-growing E. coli cell to non-human [cell],” said Tuason for the students’ demonstration Friday.
“It’s an intensive hands-on experience,” Tuason said of the boot camp. She has taught biotechnology at Pasadena City College and students who earn a ‘C’ or better in her class can skip the next required biology class at PCC if or when they enroll there.
Amgen, the largest biotech company in the world, sets the curriculum and provides the free DNA and enzymes needed for Tuason’s class. Tuason said the equipment used in the showcase totaled around $50,000.
The class is “hours and hours of homework and studying,” said junior Joanne Moon, who is also a part of CV’s Science and Medicine Academy. “Every day you do up to three labs. It’s really difficult.”
But Moon added that the labs are fun and “in the future I want to become a pharmacist and I feel like this academy and biotech class gives me an advantage.”
The scientific notebooks the students had were full of detailed pages. Students were responsible for making a proper table of contents, documenting their research and showing the results. One flip through the book showed that reading it was much more complicated than describing what’s in it.
‘The purpose of our program is to provide career exploration and career opportunities for students and teachers and to be involved in the business world,” said PCC’s Emma Sanchez, project director for the Career Technical Education Community Collaborative, a sponsor of the event. “One of the goals is to provide cutting edge technology and also to provide an opportunity for students to have real-world experiences.”
LCHS science teacher Patty Compeau said she was inspired by Tuason and had wanted to join her for this showcase for some time, because the purpose is important.
“If the students are in fact being trained and having an opportunity to learn about fields where there are actually jobs, then that will give them a better opportunity to succeed,” Compeau said.
“Biotechnology can be so relevant to your health, just important issues that people can vote on, so even if you don’t become a scientist, it’s important,” said Sherry Tsai, a kindergarten through 12th grade coordinator of events at Oak Crest Institute of Science.
Tsai, who holds a Ph.D in chemistry, also echoed the significance of seeing students gain this sort of knowledge at an early age.
“A lot of these kids are particularly interested in pursuing a career in science or medicine. For them, it’s especially important because these are the sorts of skills that we know they will need.”