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Bayview students get close-up look at science at Hutch High

SEATTLE — Most days, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle is a nonprofit biomedical-research institution.

Last week, though, the research center added teaching teens to its duties when it hosted “Hutch High.”

Roughly 225 sophomore students from 28 high schools from around Washington state, including nine from Bayview School, were given an opportunity to visit the cancer research center during its annual half-day seminar.

For nine years, Hutch High has served as an outreach to Puget Sound schools that do not have robust science programs, said Robbie Phillips, Hutch High facilitator. The program has also given the students a brief taste of science and research.

“What we are trying to do is educate students about the options that they have,” Phillips said.

“If we can get the students here early in their high school career, we have the potential to really excite the passion for science in them before they have determined a path — and to let them know what is out there that they can do.”

The Bayview students were put in a group called “Dead Fish.” They then sat in on a lecture about sickle cell disease as a scientist explained how symptoms of the disease can be reduced and what causes it in the first place.

At the next station, volunteers put a black-light reflective gel on students’ hands.

Students were told to wash their hands and then return to a black- light station to see how well they had washed.

Many of the Dead Fish found they had to wash their hands numerous times.

“I couldn’t get my hands clean,” Randy Nolan said.

Tina Jensen, on the other hand, knew to wash her hands several times before coming back to the black light.

“My hands were clean,” she said.

“From my perspective, it is about learning that a wet environment is more conducive to bacteria than a dry environment,” volunteer Paige Gibson said.

“This station shows how difficult it can be to get rid of bacteria from your hands and therefore, you should not rub your eyes and nose.”

For many of the students, the laboratory station where they extracted DNA earned points for cool.

After the Dead Fish mashed strawberries into pulp inside a plastic bag, they added a bit of dishwashing detergent to break open the cell structure.

Students then strained the mixture through cheese cloth into a test tube, and then poured in some ethanol.

That is where the magic happened as the students were then able to pick out the DNA with a wooden stick and see it for themselves.

“What I learned today was that ethanol was good for extracting DNA. That was cool because it was hands-on science,” Jensen said. “I had no idea that ethanol could be used for anything other than powering cars.”

Tommy Morgen-Burke agreed with Jensen.

“The strawberries were amazing, mostly because I never knew how easy it was to extract pure DNA,” he said.

“Also I find it interesting that a strawberry’s DNA is like four times as complicated as ours,” Morgen-Burke said.

“I had never done any of that stuff before, like the strawberry thing,” added Jake Torget. “I didn’t know you could actually see DNA.”

For Liz Kwan, a University of Washington graduate student and volunteer, the strawberry experiments were cool, too.

“Even though some of us are high-level graduate students, all of us were fascinated that strawberries have such a high amount of DNA,” she said. “It triggers in your mind that you eat DNA every day.”

The Dead Fish then attended lectures about cancer-causing bacteria, the function of the body’s immune system and use of model organisms to understand human development.

“It was great. There was a lot of knowledge that you can use in every day life, such as the separation of DNA and the knowledge about sickle cell anemia to lower the chances of getting it or to decrease the symptoms,” said student Boomer Wiener.

There was the “wow factor,” too, when students learned about 3-D modeling of human cells and proteins with computers and X-ray machinery.

“The most interesting thing was the X-ray machine used to build 3-D models of proteins to figure out what they do and how they help our body function by delivering substances and executing viruses,” Wiener said.

Even so, the students left the cancer research center wanting more.

“I wanted to see how the X-ray machine worked,” Wiener said. “They only talked about it. I wanted to see more demonstrations and in-depth stuff.”

“I was looking for more hands-on and more information about cancer,” said Taylor Barker.

Eric Hood, Bayview’s science teacher, had high hopes as well and for the most part was pleased with Hutch High.

“Anytime these students get a different perspective, a different set of teachers, a different set of knowledge, that is when you learn, when you are exposed to something real,” Hood said.

“They are closer to the source, to the scientists here. Those people are on the cutting edge of cancer research. Just hearing them speak was an education in and of itself,” Hood added.

High expectations from students and teachers notwithstanding, the point of the seminars was not a deep submersion in the sciences surrounding cancer research but more of a taste test, said Phillips.

“When I was in high school 20 years ago, there was not an awareness that you could even go into science and just do research,” she said.

“People didn’t know that science and research was a career path. Our hope is not just to increase awareness of science but increase awareness of science in a group because we want to increase the diversity of our staff,” Phillips said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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