Hands-on biotech experience opens career options

DESTINY bus travels to THS
Nov. 01, 2013 @ 02:58 PM

A crime scene investigation pulled into the parking lot at Thomasville High School.

The DESTINY traveling science learning program bus on Oct. 23 gave students an inside look at possible careers in biotechnology. The 40-foot, 33,000-pound bus rolled onto the campus as a fully equipped laboratory where students attempted to solve a mystery using state-of-the-art crime scene investigation technology. 

"It's a great opportunity for them to actually see how everything works," said Charlene Fortner, a 10th grade biology teacher. "We can simulate it in the classroom, but since we don't have the actual supplies, this is a great way for them to get that hands-on experience."

A group of eight sophomores were tasked with  analyzing a drop of "blood" and other evidence from a crime scene to determine who may be the guilty party. The laboratory on wheels provided students access to an array of crime solving techniques used by professional forensic experts.

"I thought it was very cool because I like science a lot," sophomore Jasmine Rashad said. "I was able to figure out who the person was at the crime scene. We compared DNA and found out that Suspect 1 did the crime. I like everything about it."

Careers in biotechnology are on the rise, and the DESTINY Science Bus is way to introduce thousands of students to possible jobs that are expected to be in high demand in the coming years. 

"Biotechnology is the way to go now," said Kathy Oakes, a science educator with the traveling lab program. "There is job stability and there is a need for it everywhere. A lot of jobs are going this way and it's so involved."

Possible careers in biotechnology include forensic scientists, pathologists and research scientists. Several biotech degrees are available at community colleges as well as major universities. Graduates of a two-year program can earn more than $40,000 straight out of school, Oakes said.

"This is not just for human DNA," Oakes said.  "We can do this kind of work with really any kind of organism. It's wonderful for them. They were able to come in here and use the actual supplies, see the gels, and kind of figure out this works and is used in a crime scene. There are other applications we'll talk about in the future for genetic diseases."

Performing a technique called gel electrophoresis, students learned how to pipette into gels and analyze fingerprints in a hands-on exercise. The DESTINY traveling lab is an initiative provided by the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. The program has reached more than 10,000 students at 270 schools  across the state in the past two years.

For more information, visit moreheadplanetarium.org/go/destiny.

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or duke@tvilletimes.com.