When you’re working with cells, you have to take every precaution to not contaminate your sample.
You’ll put the cells in a carbon dioxide-chilled refrigerator, and let them grow in a negative pressure hood, which keeps you from accidentally spitting into your petri dish.
You’ll suspend the cells in purified water and look at them using a special microscope.
And if you’re a student at Ball High School, you’ll do this very carefully and under the watchful eyes of teachers, who are excited students can use all this new equipment.
Carefully, very carefully.
Ball High School is putting the final touches on a new state-of-the-art science lab that officials say would be used by 500 students a year come next fall.
“It’s really exciting, I’m really excited for it to just be done,” said Michelle Puig, Ball High School’s microbiology teacher, who has helped plan and develop the lab.
The new lab is filled with state-of-the-art equipment, which is usually reserved for college campuses, said Julia Ramirez, the director of biomedical and science program at Ball High School. It’s so rare, that the school believes it might be a one-of-kind thing in Texas.
“It’s because of the cost of equipment,” Ramirez said of why there aren’t more labs like this one. The equipment at Ball High School cost more than $15,000, she said.
The lab is being paid for by grants given to the high school by the Moody Permanent Endowment Fund and the Galveston Education Foundation, officials said. It’s part of the same grant that helped the school purchase a synthetic cadaver for its anatomy lab earlier this year.
The high school has been planning the new lab for two years, said Dr. Bruce Leipzig, the president of Ball High School’s parent group for its science, technology, engineering and mathematics program. Ball High School divides many of its programs into different communities, with their own parent advisory groups.
The new biotechnology lab will allow students to grow and observe cells taken from plants and animals, officials said. It also will teach them about working in a clean and sterile lab environment.
Some students already have gotten a good look at the lab, and said they’re excited about what kind of things they’ll get to try doing in it.
“There are a lot of schools that don’t have this, we have an opportunity that schools don’t have and use this later on in college life,” Ball High School junior Leyha Williams said. “They use this stuff in college classes, and we have it here, in our high school.”
Because the program and equipment are so novel, Puig reached out to universities near and far to determine whether high schoolers would be capable of doing the kind of the work envisioned in the lab.
She struck gold after finding a teacher in California who has pioneered teaching microbiology to high school students. The key, she learned, is to not worry about students failing to grow cells. That’s part of the process.
“It’s more about the journey, than the destination,” Puig said. “If the kids kill the cells, if the cells get infected, that’s OK.”
The new lab also solves something of an access problem at the high school. Students from the school have long been able to partner with researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch to learn about biotechnology and to use the college’s resources.
But the space and funding to do that fluctuates, officials said. The new lab will allow the high school to pass on some of those lessons to students who don’t, or can’t participate in the medical branch program.
“We thought, instead of waiting for a handful of kids to go over there, why don’t we bring it to them,” Ramirez said.
There’s still work to be done in the lab before it’s ready to do everything teachers envision, and it won’t be in full use until next semester.
Before students get to work in the lab, the school district will hold an open house for Galveston residents to check out the new science lab on April 24.