Final Weblog: Year Overview

In my Independent Science Project (which I do during allotted time in my school week), I am helping teach middle schoolers about DNA through modern genetic technologies. I think it’s vital for my generation to understand DNA and modern breakthroughs in genetic research, because we are on the precipice of a biology revolution, due to the unlocking of the gene (just as we went through physics revolution with the unraveling of the atom, and a computer revolution with the harnessing of the byte). This project combines my passion for science and biotechnology with teaching and communication.

Below are my Project Proposal and my Resources and Dependencies papers.



Take That, Ms. Frizzle: Giving Middle-Schoolers a Hands-on Experience With Genetics and Biotechnology Without a Magic Schoolbus


I’m planning on teaching middle schoolers about DNA and genetics using PCR and gel electrophoresis for a hands-on approach.

Background & Purpose:

Most students learn about biology on a macro-to-micro scale. They might start with animals and organisms in elementary school, before learning about cells in middle school, and then, when they finally reach high school, they learn about biochemistry and genetics. While this progression may be a good simple-to-complex gradient for students to follow, it certainly has room for improvement. The reason organisms function is their cells, and the reason their cells function is because of the proteins (and other things) that make them up. The function of the proteins comes from the DNA in the organism. By introducing genetics into a student’s curriculum earlier, you are setting them up for better understanding by cutting straight to the bottom of the “why” question. Also, with the relatively recent breakthroughs in biotechnology (gene sequencing, CRISPR, etc.), it is important for students to grasp concepts of genes and DNA.

I will use DNA copying (polymerase chain reaction, or PCR), special ‘molecular scissors’ (restriction enzymes), and a DNA visualizer (gel electrophoresis) to show students how their DNA codes for the way their bodies are, physically.

Methods & Tools:

I plan on getting a PTC-tasting gene kit. After figuring out how well it all works, I will take DNA samples from the students I’m working with, and amplify a 221 bp region of the TAS2R38 gene. I will then use a restriction enzyme that will cut the gene segments in two only if they code for the PTC-tasting phenotype. After that, I will run the DNA segments through agarose gel, which will determine whether the segments have been cut into two, or if they have remained uncut, effectively predicting the phenotype in each student.

I’ll measure the effectiveness of the project by seeing how well the students understand DNA, PCR, and gel electrophoresis after the program through some form of examination.


It is predicted that gene editing and sequencing is the next big thing in science. Medicine tailor-made for your body and diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s combatted are two of many exciting things to look forward to as biotechnology keeps moving forward. It’s important for students interested in science and technology to have a firm grasp of concepts regarding genetics as they proceed into their careers, making it more important than ever to take a hands-on approach when teaching students about DNA, to transform it from confusing textbook diagrams to tangible, verifiable experiments in the classroom, giving students a solid foundation as they grow to become the bioengineers of tomorrow.


Future students could continue my project by expanding the curriculum to include other hands-on projects and reach out further to other schools. It could even become a program where honors and AP-level high school students were trained to teach middle schoolers to enrich both classes.



Project Title: Take That, Ms. Frizzle: Giving Middle-Schoolers a Hands-on Experience With Genetics and Biotechnology Without a Magic Schoolbus

Project Scope: Teaching middle schoolers about DNA and biotechnology through hands-on projects involving PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and gel electrophoresis.

Project Duration/timeline:

  • Inventory PCR and gel electrophoresis equipment in currently Energy Lab, organize lab space

  • Order any missing elements

  • Figure out proper procedure

  • Run PTC-tasting DNA analysis on myself and some fellow independent science researchers to ensure procedure works

  • Design ‘lesson plan’ for best way to teach DNA, PCR, etc. to middle-schoolers

  • Practice lessons and lab on friends and siblings, get critiques and suggestions on teaching

  • Coordinate with middle school science teachers, teach and take samples (with parental consent) over the course of a week

  • Return with students’ results, and give them PTC strips to taste to verify that genotype codes for phenotype

  • After working at Lower Campus, speak with other middle school science teachers on the island (Innovations, WHEA, etc.)

Project partners (internal and external): Mr. Piercy (Lower Campus science teacher), Ms. Jim (Lower Campus science teacher), Mrs. McDowell (consulting), Dr. Bill (consulting and guidance)


  • PTC Taster Lab chemicals - TBE Buffer, Loading Dye, Ethidium Bromide, Agarose, DNA Ladder, Chelex, Saline rinse, Restriction enzymes, etc.

  • PCR thermocycler

  • Gel electrophoresis chamber

  • Micropipets

  • Microcentrifuge

  • UV transilluminator

Online resources (web pages, wikis, online programs) (Procedure)

The above is my original proposal, once I got some direction in the class. I really wanted to use my knowledge of biotechnology and genetics to teach kids in the middle school, but several things conspired against me. It took far longer than anticipated to get the DNA equipment working. When I picked up the project, everything was a big mess, scattered throughout the Elab with very little organization. It took quite a while even just to catalog what we had to work with. Once I had done that, I began running PCR reactions, but I got no results. I ran the reactions again and again, isolating different variables each time to see what could be going wrong. I figured out two things in the end: we had the wrong transilluminator, and the thermocycler wasn't working right. So I did some more research, and with Dr. Bill and Mrs. McDowell's help, bought the Elab a new transilluminator and PCR machine (for relatively quite cheap). By the time I had done all this, most of the year was over and I was very caught up in APs and graduation stuff, which means I never was able to go down and teach like I hoped to, but I still believe that I've left behind a significant legacy. I know that I have revitalized the Elab's biotech program by reorganizing it and ordering new, functional equipment so that my successors can have more success than I did. They will be able to pursue their passions in genetics and biotechnology, which was (and is) my original goal.

While I didn't accomplish all that I planned to, I am still very proud of my work this year and I think I've learned a lot from it. I think I'm most proud of my persistence in figuring out what was wrong with my PCR protocol. I ran so many gels over the course of the year to figure out what could be wrong. I talked to DR. Bill, Mrs. McDowell, representatives of the biotech companies we work with, and some old acquaintances to help me figure out what I was doing wrong. It was an overall great (and sometimes frustrating) experience that I think has helped prepare me for the research I'll be doing in college.

THANK YOU, Dr. Bill for supporting me and my endeavors. Ths year was such a great year. Kepp being awesome and helping kids realize their passions!


Friday 5.19.17

No school today. Optional study day.


Wednesday 5.17.17

Most everyone had finished with their presentations and projects, so there was a mini chess match between Ilan and Sameer, then Ilan and Johnny. Both Ilan and Johnny are less than proficient players (as am I.)
It was a fun class. (And the last one this year!)


Monday 5.15.17

Today was the day of my presentation! I think it went pretty well. Mrs. Petteys seemed impressed with the headway I've made with the Elab's biotech equipment.
It still hasn't sunk in that school's almost over.


Week overview 05.08-05.12

I was basically not at school for the first 3 days of this week due to AP tests, and then I got sick, and was not at school for the next two days. I'm starting to feel better now.


Friday 05.12.17

I was supposed to do my presentation today, but I got sick on Wednesday, and am still under the weather. I will (hopefully) be better by Monday, and I will present (and be present) then.


Wednesday 05.10.17

AP English Language and Composition Exam. I feel pretty confident about it, despite the fact that my nose was running the whole time and my cold was setting in.


Monday 05.08.17

AP Biology Exam. I think I did quite well.


Week Overview 01.05-05.05

This week was good and crazy as usual. Dr. Bill allowed us to focus on some other classes with Aps coming up, as well as working on our presentations and thinking about "Why?" There were several tours, and I continued to prepare for whoever's around next year.

Actually, I spoke to Emily Fong about ISR, and she was asking me about her proposal and my project. She expressed interest in the DNA stuff, and might want to take over some or all of my project, which would be cool.


Friday 05.05.17

Dr. Bill and half of the class were not here today (AP US History and May Day). Those of us who were here worked on our presentations and chatted with the sub. Mr. Donnely brought in a small tour, and I took the helm since Dr. Bill wasn't there to lead the way. They were very nice and enjoyed seeing our class, though we couldn't show them everything there was to show.


Wednesday 05.03.17

Relatively uneventful class, many people were in AP Lit. It was more of a study day than anything else. We're thinking about/working on presentations and posterity. Good stuff.
It's crazy to think I'll be graduating soon.


Monday 05.01.17

We had international educational consultant visitors today. They had some really good questions for us and seemed really impressed. I was actually rather touched by Tyler's story. I am honestly so proud of my ISR class. I guess I'm waxing sentimental as a senior, getting ready to graduate.


Week Overview 04.24-04.28

This week, we focused a lot on our final presentations. I reallh enjoyed it, but it felt kind of intuitive. We invited Kai (don't know his last name) into the class to help with his application/proposal, which I imagine was helpful. Keaton (my brother) is not applying for next year (full schedule of APs), but I could imagine him applying the year after to do something like what I'm doing; he'sinterested in genetics and all that jazz. It would be fun to keep the title of Thronelab Biotinker-in-Training in the family! :)

I focused some on the MiniPCR machine this week, but mostly on the tours. Over the weekend, I'll be working on final presentation stuff and my 7th grade talk.


Friday 04.28.17

Zoe accidentally deleted her project today, and I spent some time consoling her. Goerge was really good about it. Apparently, it's salvageable (and they can do it even better, improving on the difficulties of the last go-round).

I also learned that I ascended to the next level in the Takitani Scholarship, being one of 9 in the state (it's a $5,000 scholarship!) I'm going to keep it quiet for right now, just because I don't really want to flaunt it. I was a bit distracted by Zoe and this great news during class. Also, Oliver's sensors are working and cool.


Wednesday 04.26.17

8TH GRADE VISITS TODAY! It was so busy. So many tours went through our ISR period. We had to rapidfire our Why questions with minimum wordcount. It kept us quite busy for the duration of class. It was fun, quickly adapting to different groups of 8th graders.


Monday 04.24.17

We spoke more about the Why behind our presentations today. A bunch of tours came through the Elab, and Dr. Bill wasn't here today. The sub was nice enough, but no substitute for Dr. Bill. I managed to organize my work station, and I read through some of the MiniPCR manual. Pretty uneventful.


Week Overview 04.17-04.21

This week was pretty great, despite being utterly exhausting. Between catching up in classes and jetlag, I was consistently tired, but ISR was pretty great. Sameer beat me in chess in 5 minutes while he was talking to someone else, I received and set up a brand new thermocycler (yay MiniPCR!), and I got to experience Minecraft through Oculus Touch! All in all, I had a good week. It helps that I know which college I'm going to now. I'm sad that I'll be graduating and leaving the Elab.


Friday 04.21.17

I tested the MiniPCR machine today, and it seemed to work well. When I plugged it in, it started running a 3-hour Quality Control Cycle. I decided to let it run its course, and put it away after school. It is so adorable. It's so small, and it looks really cool, with its tough acrylic and circuitry visible. I couldn't measure the well temperature, but it seemed to be functioning correctly. I will have to do some basic PCR in the weeks to come to see if it works correctly. The program seems really easy to work with.


Wednesday 04.19.17

Mr. Schorn came in to talk to us about the power of presentation. I enjoyed his visit, and I think his advice was important for the class to hear. We went around briefly discussing the "Why?" behind each of our projects.

While we were speaking, a family came in to visit. It was great for them to see the underpinnings of our projects, giving them a good idea of how our class works, and giving us some more practice.

Also, I received the MiniPCR machine today! It was like Christmas in April! (Easter?) In all the discussion, I wasn't able to get it up and running, but I downloaded the MiniPCR manual and software to the Biocomputer. I'll do more with MiniPCR on Friday.


Monday 04.17.17

Today was my first day back from my week-and-a-half long college visit trip, and I have big news: I am committing to Dartmouth!

At the same time, I'm super jetlagged and tired, so most of ISR today was spent getting back on my feet and catching up with people.