“Go for the Glow” BU Summer Lab

I recently participated in Boston University’s CityLab summer lab program as a scholar recipient from my high school. Started in 1992, the BU School of Medicine pioneered an outreach teaching program that has gone across the country. CityLab’s mission is to provide access to state-of-the-art biotechnology laboratory facilities and curriculum, unavailable to most school systems. The CityLab allows students to solve problems by applying the same techniques and concepts of genetics and molecular biology used in research laboratories today.

My program, “Go for the Glow”, was working with a special protein from jellies that glow under UV light! Our objective was to try to create the most concentrated and purest sample of the protein. After we were split into groups of four, we set off to follow the necessary procedures for different types of purification.

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Each member of my group learned a different method of purification in “expert groups”. I learned a process called hydrophobic interaction chromatography (HIC). This method uses the hydrophobic (fear of water) properties of the glowing protein to separate proteins from each other. We were able to separate out the proteins that weren’t very hydrophobic and that were hydrophilic (like water) to have the purest sample of the glowing protein.

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My group investigated different methods, including immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC) which uses the glowing protein’s affinity for nickel to its advantage and size exclusion chromatography (SEC) which uses size to separate and purify the glowing protein. We tried combinations of the different purification methods and compared them to each individual method. In the end we had several samples with a variety of concentrations and purities. We discovered that although many of the glows seemed similar in brightness, not all of them were equally pure or concentrated.

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I had a great time participating in this program; it was a unique opportunity to learn how to manipulate lab procedures and think about the results they may cause. To learn more about the program, visit http://www.bumc.bu.edu/citylab/

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

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Independent Research and Design Project: Part 6

Although I am not trained in dance therapy nor have I experienced an actual dance therapy class, I have been given the opportunity to teach dance to children with special needs twice.  The first time I helped choreograph and teach a dance was last summer at Camp Ramah in New England (CRNE) and I was assisted by the dance instructor at camp.  At the time, I did not know very much about how therapeutic dance, or even dance in general, worked for people with special needs.  Together, we made up simple steps that included clapping (which they loved), turning, and steps back and forth.  This experience was a really good introduction because the dance was for people with a wide range of disabilities, one in a wheelchair, some unable to talk, and others who didn’t like loud noise like music.  The dance was simple but it taught me a lot about what works (or doesn’t work) when creating dances for people with disabilities.

The second opportunity I was given to teach dance was in my Gateways classroom.  I was asked to teach an Israeli dance as part of our celebration of Israel’s birthday.  I chose one of my favorite dance songs, the Miami Boys’ Hinai Matov, and used moves to create a dance that would best fit the abilities of students in my classroom who are mostly higher functioning children between the ages of 11 and 14. Taking it one step at a time, we learned the dance together making sure everyone knew the steps before moving on to new ones.  As a test of what I learned about balance and midlines discussed in my last blog, I put some moves in the dance that tested the theory.  I incorporated arm circles because they seemed like the best way to cross over the midline without creating a situation where any students would fall over.  It proved to be difficult for the students and caused them to fall behind on the following counts.  Anticipating this dilemma, I created an alternative move of waving the arms back and forth over the head slowly—getting close to crossing the midline but not actually crossing it.  Some other dance moves that tested the boundaries included kicks.  The kicks were not a big problem for my class, but I think that for some other people with disabilities it could have caused some imbalance.  Overall, the dance was a success!  I allowed some time for students to make up their own moves because I thought that seeing what the students perceived as the limits for their abilities would be best portrayed by their own choices.  I saw clapping, jumping, and a few iconic dance moves like Gangnam Style wrist movements. 

The day that I taught the dance to my students at Gateways was also perspective volunteer day.  Throughout the day there were groups of about ten students coming into the classroom.  Usually, students get antsy, shy, or distracted when visitors come in.  I was nervous to teach the dance because at the time a large group of observers were in the classroom; however, to my surprise, the students barely noticed the visitors because they were so engaged in the dance.  Several of the prospective volunteers said they enjoyed watching the dance program and thought the students looked really happy; it was so exciting to hear such positive feedback.

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

Independent Research and Design (IRaD) Project: Part 5

After completing my studies about the genetics of Down syndrome during my Independent Research and Design (IRaD) project, I began to connect my newly acquired scientific knowledge to dance.  After dancing for many years, I really wanted to find a way to most effectively use my experience to teach people of all abilities.  With CHEETA (Children Helping Empower Each other Through Art) in mind, I started to learn about the effects of dance therapy.

Dance is one of the many forms of therapies for Down’s syndrome.  The Creative Arts Therapies Research Center believes that the body and mind are an interrelated continuum; “through the vehicle of movement and dance, the client can creatively explore and enhance emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration.”  Many of the symptoms of Down’s syndrome involve the senses or fine motor skills, such as slanted eyes, low muscle tone, and cognitive development handicaps7.  Dance gives people with Down’s syndrome a different way of expression and communication— other than normal conversation which is often hard for those with Down’s syndrome. 

I have learned from my interactions with therapists over the past few months some important points to remember while teaching a dance to people with special needs in order to make it the most effective.  I was taught that it is very important when teaching people with special needs to not cross the midline of the body.  This is an imaginary line that creates some sort of symmetry in the body and crosses right down the middle of the front and back of the body.  It is also important to make sure that both feet are on the ground during all parts of the dance because, similar to the problem with the midline, balance can become a distracting and frustrating problem for some people with special needs10.

After gaining an understanding of how dance therapy works and what makes it effective, I was able to put my new knowledge into action!  Next week, I will share my experiences teaching children with special needs a dance routine.  Please stay posted!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

Independent Research and Design (IRaD) Project: Part 4

As promised, this week’s blog is about some of the current research regarding chromosome 21 that I discovered during the course of my Independent Research and Design (IRaD) project.  I found this part of my project particularly interesting because the research is conducted on mice.  The concept that scientists can find convincing and factual information from a species that seem so different than humans was strange to me.  Mice, however, are nearly identical to humans in their gene content, order, and spacing in every region.  Therefore, mice actually make the perfect specimen for genetic testing—in addition to being cheap and easy to find.

There is some variation in the symptoms of people with Down’s syndrome; however, overall everyone with trisomy 21 have very similar physical features.  In order to understand why people with Down’s syndrome have the features and symptoms that they do, the current research uses mice to help understand what the genes on chromosome 21 code for. 1

The experiment uses a knockout method that tests mice for a few sections of chromosome 21 at a time.  In order to carry out this test, pieces of chromosome 21 (regions) are knocked out of the chromosome and placed in a mouse to test for changes that relate to Down’s syndrome. A similar test has been done on mice with other chromosomes and it has shown changes in the mice that have helped scientists understand certain trisomies better. 1

While doing this test, scientists must be careful and attentive because, although mice are very similar to humans genetically, mice are also very different.  When using the knockout method, they could end up testing for a gene that is completely different in mice than in humans.  Not much has been found out about the genes on chromosome 21 because testing started only several years ago and is very challenging.  Many of the physical symptoms that are found in humans with Down’s syndrome are in the eyes, hands, and tongues.  Mice react very differently to these physical changes and have made it difficult for scientists to decode the genes.1

I hope that advances in science will provide us with more answers about Down’s syndrome and chromosome 21.  Thanks to my IRaD Project I have a better scientific understanding of Down’s syndrome and I learned about a topic I am deeply committed to.  This section brought me to the end of my study of the genetics of Down’s syndrome. My next blog about my IRaD project will discuss the relationship between dance and Down’s syndrome; stay tuned!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra