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OHS students just gellin’ for science

At left, Olympic High School senior Heather Barre, 17, watches as fellow OHS senior Jesse Griebel,18, pours agarose solution to create a gel that will allow them to separate cell components.  The students were participating in OHS science teacher Tim Fowler’s lab class on Thursday. - Photo by Jesse Beals
At left, Olympic High School senior Heather Barre, 17, watches as fellow OHS senior Jesse Griebel,18, pours agarose solution to create a gel that will allow them to separate cell components. The students were participating in OHS science teacher Tim Fowler’s lab class on Thursday.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

In an Olympic High School science lab students are learning the “meat and potatoes” of the biotechnology field.

In the coming weeks Tim Fowler’s science students will become sleuths in the case a doggie whodunit. They won’t use eyewitness accounts or measure paw prints to figure out which of three dogs ate the chicken. The information they will use to catch the canine is far more reliable — DNA.

The junior and senior students on Thursday prepared gels they will use to separate components such as proteins and DNA.

“We always get to do different things each week,” said Tiffany Atwood, senior.

The forensic aspect of biotechnology prodded Atwood to sign up for the class.

Senior Jesse Griebel and a small group prepared an agarose solution at the lab table.

“I wanted to learn more about it. I like how it’s a brand new technology,” Griebel said.

It’s the same curiosity about cutting edge science that got educator Fowler into the biotechnology field 20 years ago. Back then scientists were just learning how to cut DNA and the breakthroughs came with it.

“I was totally hooked,” Fowler said.

He studied DNA and molecular biology in college at Liverpool University and got his P.h.d. in Glasglow, Scotland. Fowler then moved to the United States and attended Cal-Berkeley to do his post-doctorate work.

Then he went to work for Genencor, a California-based biotechnology company where he was a research scientist.

“It’s how I got interested in teaching in the first place,” Fowler said.

The company started a program to educate high school teachers on biotechnology and it eventually included students. He was an education liaison for his last six years at Genencor and coordinated groups of students who would spend 6-8 weeks in the lab during the summer.

“Instead of flipping burgers they were learning about biotechnology,” Fowler said.

He and his wife were looking for career changes and moved to the Seattle area. Fowler earned his teaching certification from Seattle University and then was hired by the CK school district to teach biotech principles.

Through the Science Education Partners program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Fowler has received training and lab kits for the classroom. There are about 20 students each class. Prerequisites for the class include biology and chemistry.

“You know what DNA is, now let’s see what we can do with it,” Fowler tells his students. This year he is in “flying by the seat of the pants” mode, he said.

The class is concept-and-skill based rather than about taking quizzes every week. Fowler said students are asked to journal what they learned and how much they enjoyed the lesson.

“People are looking over the fence and seeing how things are going,” he said.

Next year he hopes to develop a central theme around which all the lessons revolve.

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