Extracting DNA from a banana sounds like something one might do in a scientific laboratory, but with a few simple household ingredients, about a dozen students got to do their own hands-on genetic experiment at Fusion Youth Centre last week.
The experiment was part of a sneak preview of what's on the agenda for a special March Break STEM camp being held at the centre by Partners In Research (PIR).
PIR STEM camps use multimedia connections to introduce youth to researchers across Canada in the world of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The Wednesday, Feb. 12 event had Dr. Thomas Merritt, a geneticist from Laurentian University, participating via an ipad. He explained genes and DNA in terms the youth, aged around 13, could understand during the roughly half-hour video call.
In the Fusion room, Drew Fallowfield, STEM camp leader, lead the students through the steps of extracting the banana DNA. It was as simple as mashing the banana, adding some salt and water, filtering the mixture and adding some rubbing alcohol to the liquid that remained. The DNA strands appeared as white specks and could be picked up with a toothpick.
STEM camps are designed to get youth interested in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math and address concerns that students aren't pursuing these paths in their senior high school years, which could leave a gap in these career areas.
PIR is hosting the March Break camp at Fusion as a way to “ignite an interest in youth for science, technology, engineering and math by presenting STEM activities and experiments, and games that are both educational and fun,” said Fallowfield in a press release. Camps are also in the works for the summer.
PIR executive director Kevin Cougler was instrumental in developing the multimedia connection to learning. In 2005 he was approached by Canadian philanthropist Ron Calhoun with an idea to somehow use his charity, Partners in Research, to bring researchers into the classroom to inspire students. One year later, Virtual Researchers On Call (VROC) was born.
Since it's launch, the program has experienced explosive growth, now partnering Grade 5 to 12 students from over 60 of Ontario's school boards with researchers from all but three of the province's universities and continues to experience rapid growth and has expanded into Alberta, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, with plans to launch in British Columbia and Quebec in the near future.
For information about registering for the STEM camps at Fusion, see the educational programs link at www.pirweb.org or call Fusion program coordinator Craig Boddy at 519-485-4386 ext. 43.