I’m a Biomedical Engineering Graduate student immersed in a 9th grade biology class at Ypsilanti High School this semester. This first week has been quite an experience for me.
Last week, Ms. Papke’s biology classes were charged with determining how well brine shrimp hatch/grow in different salinities (all prepared in Petri dishes). I later learned (through wikipedia), this experiment is very common as an introduction to the life sciences at the high school level. In addition, to keeping students focused I was trying to remember what 9th grade was like for me with my limited views of science at the time. I realized that any activity or concept that could relate what scientists actually do, what other tools they may have, and in general what types of questions scientists are really addressing may help motivate these students or at least elicit appreciation.
In my second class, I asked several of the students if they thought biologists did all of their work with Petri dishes. The responses varied: “No, they often go out into nature” or “No, sometimes they just watch animals.” How do I demonstrate – in a meaningful manner – what other tools biologists use?
Then it hit me - Microfluidic channels with a variation of the brine shrimp experiment. These devices are often being used in cellular cultures to study biological questions that cannot be answered in a traditional Petri dish. More over, these devices are tangible - the students can see them, touch them, and use them. Ms. Papke and I have developed two potential, very simple but elegant, experiments that we will try prior to a class demonstration. Hopefully, new tools will generate an interest in science and the many tools we have at our disposal.