SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 17, 2009

Not Little Miss Muffet's curds and whey

Students get a lesson in biotech

By Ethan Forman

DANVERS — About 10 Danvers High students spent a recent class making cheese curds.

They carefully measured milk into test tubes, added different enzymes like rennin, lemon juice and chymosin, heated the mixtures and logged the results.

No, this was not a cooking class, but a new biotechnology course aimed not only at teaching about curds and whey, but at giving kids 21st century skills and a future in a growing industry that has a cluster on the North Shore.

"It's 21st century jobs for this area," Danvers lead science teacher Lee Russo said.

Russo hopes the biotech course, new this year, will spark students' love of science with some hands-on learning. She also hoped this bit of cheese making would give students a taste of the fast-growing life sciences field that employs 43,000 in the state.

The course at Danvers High, and several other North Shore high schools, was made possible by a three-year, up to $13,000 BioTeach grant from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation.

Danvers received $8,800 this school year, the bulk of which went for equipment such as micro pipettes and new centrifuges. About $1,000 went to buy chemicals, strands of DNA and cell cultures.

The grant and $10,000 a year for the past three years from Cell Signaling Technology in Danvers has allowed the high school to buy the kind of equipment students would encounter in a college science lab.

Students simply liked getting their hands dirty.

"It's the first class where I've done hands-on work," junior Andrew Bernstein said.

"It's a lot more beneficial," said Senior Stephanie Carvel who wants to become a doctor, "because you are doing (science) instead of just reading about it."

The BioTeach program aims to jump-start biotech learning at every public high school in the Bay State.

"The hope is these kinds of lab experiences are so exciting and engaging to kids, they will stay with science as careers," said Robert Ross, director of the BioTeach Program.

Besides Danvers, Beverly High, Essex Agricultural and Technical High, Marblehead High, North Shore Technical High and Peabody Veterans Memorial High won BioTeach grants this year. Hamilton-Wenham and Masconomet Regional won grants last year.

"We hope to generate a future work force for companies that want to stay here," Ross said.

Some local life science companies have bought into the concept.

SmartCells Inc. in Beverly has been supportive of Essex Aggie's program, Bartsch said.

Danvers High receives help from Millipore on Cherry Street along with the grant money from Cell Signaling.

Millipore, which employs 171 people in Danvers, has had a scientist and a system manager go to Danvers High to talk about careers in biotech, Russo said. The goal is to arrange a site visit this spring.

Cell Signaling supports science programs not only in Danvers, but in Beverly, Hamilton-Wenham, Manchester-Essex and Masconomet, said Paula Reynolds, director of human resources.

"The goal is to foster the interest in science locally, the goal is to start them younger," Reynolds said.

Staff Writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, or by e-mail at eforman@salemnews.com.