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Mystery science

High school students put detective skills to work during lab field trip

By Kelly Foss

Students from local high schools descended on the Department of Biochemistry recently to try out their scientific and detective skills.

For the first time, the department opened its doors to students from O’Donel and Holy Heart for a daylong field trip. It saw them role play as junior crime scene investigation agents tasked with determining if a local fisherman had a freezer full of flounder or near extinct Atlantic Bluefin tuna.

Using a procedure called the Biuret method, students compared the composition of both fish species by measuring protein content.

“Our equipment is basically gathering dust over the summer, so this was an opportunity to introduce high school students to biochemistry, let them see the lab and apply some modern techniques to the things they’ve been learning in class,” said Dr. Mark Berry, head, Department of Biochemistry.

Planting the seed

Jamie Parsons is a science teacher at Holy Heart and an alumnus of the biochemistry department; he participated in the field trip with students from his Grade 11 international baccalaureate (IB) biology class.

He says he speaks “really highly” of the biochemistry program at Memorial.

“This allows my students to get a glimpse of the kind of fun stuff they can learn about and hopefully it will plant the seed that will get them to come to Memorial,” said Mr. Parsons. “They think away is better, but I’ve been telling them Memorial is a great school. There’s a natural tendency to want to go and explore, and I get that. But it’s also okay to stay here. Many of us who stay here also do well.

Two high school students conduct an experiment in the Department of Biochemistry.
Two high school students conduct an experiment in the Department of Biochemistry.
Photo: Chris Hammond

Mr. Parsons also says that he and the students can’t do everything they’d like to in their labs and that this was a chance to expose some of Holy Heart’s top students to Memorial and the biochemistry department in particular.

Expansion plans

Dr. Berry is hoping to repeat the field trip in future years with other schools.

“I’m in preliminary discussions with the biology and chemistry departments to see if we can put together a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Promo Science proposal,” he said. “I’d love to see this expand to a week or two of visits from other school groups, both high school and junior high.”

The program was funded by Memorial’s Quick Start Fund for Public Engagement. It supports small projects that support activities that foster public engagement and collaboration.

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