Early College High students see science in the real world

CorrespondentNovember 22, 2013 

Lion Patrowicz, left, and Hunter Nichols use high-tech gear to determine the amount of protein in an energy drink.

LAURA CROSIO

— Hands-on-learning, students say, is always more fun, especially when paired with high-tech equipment not usually found in the classroom.

Earlier this month, two dozen students from Johnston County’s Early College High School displayed some serious concentration skills while taking part in an opportunity brought to them by UNC’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. The experience rode up to their door in the form of the DESTINY Traveling Science Learning Program, a custom-built, 40-foot bus equipped as mobile science laboratory.

Students in the Early College’s honors chemistry class became laboratory technicians tasked with determining the amount of protein found in three common sports drinks. Building on lessons already learned in the classroom, they used their skills to measure absorbency, collect quantitative data and produce a standard curve to identify the protein content in each sample.

DESTINY’s science educator, Nick Hoffman, gave students a quick tutorial on the equipment they would be using to perform the procedure. They learned that protein concentration undergoes a distinct color change when mixed with chemical bonding agents.

The students were eager to lay their hands on a digital micro pipette, a chemical dropper used to exactly measure and transport liquid. It’s a laboratory tool many had seen only on television. Hoffman explained to the group that microliters are extremely small – equal to one 1,000th of a milliliter.

“This definitely gives us a more precise measurement from what we get to use in class,” said student Britany Holmes, 17, of Selma.

Wearing safety glasses and rubber gloves, Holmes and her lab partner, Paige Prevatt, carefully measured out and mixed their samples into test tubes and waited for a reaction to occur.

“I love science,” said Prevatt, 17, of Clayton. “To have an opportunity to work with this type of equipment is amazing.”

Their teacher, Tara Johnson, said the DESTINY program serves to show students that science has a real-world purpose outside of the classroom.

“It’s nice to have a program that also brings us access to a type of equipment that we don’t have in the classroom,” Johnson said. “This helps to get the students to see how real-life experience will help them in the future.”

After the samples changed colors, students transferred their vials to a spectrophotometer. The machine analyzed the absorbency in each liquid and produced numerical data to help determine the protein content.

“I’ve really enjoyed this experience,” said Hunter Nichols, 18. “It’s been a different atmosphere for learning.”

DESTINY is short for Delivering Edge-cutting Science Technology and Internet across North Carolina for Years to come. The program brings advanced science equipment and technology to students who otherwise might not see high-tech experiments or learn what a career in science can offer. The mobile lab travels the state throughout the year and has reached more than 260,000 students since the program’s inception.

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