|Nuclea Institute Offers Experimental Experience|
|By Stephen Dravis, Special to iBerkshires.com|
09:01AM / Friday, July 27, 2012
|High school students from around the county are participating in the Nuclea Summer Science Institute at Berkshire Community College.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — For about an hour on Thursday morning, 19 high school students learned how to identify different varieties of bacteria and maybe, just maybe, came a little closer to identifying what they want to do with their lives.
Taconic High School rising seniors Shannon Houghtling, left, and Lauren Jones perform a Gram staining experiment on bacteria.
For the third year in a row, Pittsfield-based Nuclea Biotechnologies is holding the Nuclea Summer Science Institute at Berkshire Community College.
All this week, rising juniors and seniors from schools throughout the county spent the equivalent of a full school day on the BCC campus — learning lessons from Nuclea staff, hearing from company founder and CEO Patrick Muraca and BCC President Ellen Kennedy and participating in lab sessions like Thursday's foray into the world of Gram staining.
Gram staining, named for Danish scientist Hans Christian Gram, is a technique labs use that involves subjecting large colonies of bacteria to different color dyes, in sequence, and examining the colonies under a microscope to see which microbes retain the color of the dyes.
"We can differentiate between groups of bacteria based on their cell walls," explained Jessica Kordana, a rising junior at Mount St. Mary College, graduate of Pittsfield's St. Joseph High School and summer intern at Nuclea. "The 'Gram negative' bacteria will be pink because of their thinner cell walls.
"Gram negative bacteria tend to be more pathogenic and resistant to bacteria."
Exposure to procedures like Gram staining helps make the summer program appealing to students like Virginia Goggins, who returned to BCC for a second year for the institute.
"The experiments are really interesting," said Goggins, a rising senior at St. Joseph who plans to go to college to study some scientific field. "They're something you can't do anywhere else."
Kordana and Martine Tremblay, another St. Joe grad who now attends Boston University, developed Thursday morning's lesson as part of their summer internships.
"This is part of [the interns'] education and training," said Nuclea research associate Markie Pannesco, who helped facilitate the lab session. "They had to come up with an idea themselves, and we sort of mentored them through it.
"It's a really good experience for our interns to learn how to speak in public and how it feels to teach and set up a lab."
And it's a good experience for the high school students — the kind of experience envisioned by Muraca, who founded biotech firm Nuclea in 2005 and established the free program three summers ago.
"He attended BCC, and he really enjoyed the school," Pannesco said. "And he wants to give back to the school and the community because he was so happy with his experience here. ... He really is involved in education and helping out students. We've had a couple of tours of our own labs, and it's really nice to bring the kids up here for a week."
|Nuclea intern Jessica Kordana, left, looks on as fellow intern Martine Tremblay explains a procedure. Right, Virginia Goggins of St. Joseph's High School, sterilizes equipment with a Bunsen burner.
Many of those kids — and many others — will be on the BCC campus in November, when the school hosts its annual STEM Career Fair, which emphasizes job opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
"We will invite probably up to 400 high school students to come, and we bring in a lot of businesses and organizations related to STEM," BCC Special Projects Coordinator Julie Hannum said. "Nuclea is a key partner in that.
"We usually have anywhere from 35 to 40 businesses and industries come in. We take over two floors of the Susan B. Anthony Building, and there are probably 40 different interactive displays the students take part in."
This year's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Career Fair is scheduled for Nov. 16.
"One of the neat things about the STEM Fair is it's an eye-opener to the students of all the STEM-related opportunities that are here in the Berkshires," Hannum said. "Anywhere from 85 to 90 percent of the students on average will report back to us that they learned about STEM opportunities that they did not know existed in Berkshire County. To us, that's huge."
BCC offers other special events throughout the year, and it collaborates with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts each year when MCLA hosts regional competition in the Massachusetts Science Fair for high school students on its North Adams campus, Hannum said.
Programs like the Summer Science Institute can foster a love of science that lasts throughout the school year and beyond.
"We've had a couple of former students keep in contact with us," Nuclea's Pannesco said. "I had one contact us for her school science fair, and we gave her some advice.
"We have interns every year, every summer and sometimes during winter break. So there are opportunities for them, and once they've been in camp and we know them, there are opportunities to have internships with us."
One of this summer's interns is glad to be a part of the institute long after her high school days have passed.
"We didn't have opportunities like this," Kordana said. "I think if they had I definitely would have taken advantage of it."