Salk Institute
Discovering DNA
Discovering DNA

Discovering DNA: Middle School Biotechnology Program

The Salk Mobile Science Lab is a free 3-day biotechnology program serving middle schools throughout San Diego County. This program provides a unique opportunity for your students to learn about genetics and DNA from real Salk Institute scientists. The Salk Institute is a world renowned laboratory on the cutting edge of genetics research. During the three-day mobile science lab curriculum titled “Discovering DNA”, students conduct experiments designed to illustrate that traits are coded for by a set of instructions called DNA. Students not only learn about the structure and function of DNA but also the techniques that are used everyday in real labs to analyze DNA. On the first day, students look at populations of fruit flies under a microscope to learn about the uses of model organisms, the effects of genetic transmission, and mutations. On the second day, they extract actual DNA from wheat germ. Finally, students simulate techniques used to analyze DNA fragments. All the necessary equipment is brought directly to the classroom where 90-160 students practice hands-on, interactive science for three days.

The program’s success relies on volunteers from Salk and the surrounding scientific community, primarily postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. These volunteers help distinguish the Salk Mobile Science Lab from other educational outreach programs due to the special opportunity students have to be exposed not only to content and biotechnology techniques, but to research scientists as well. Each volunteer works for one to three days with a small group of 6-8 students, which gives the students the unique experience of working closely with a researcher. Our scientists are passionate about their field of study and enjoy sharing it with young people, and this enthusiasm is often a key factor in changing students’ perceptions about science.

Mobile Lab Program requirements:

  1. There must be a minimum of 90 students and a maximum of 160 students in the morning classes. The same students must attend all three days. You can combine students from multiple classes but we must work out of one classroom or parish as we have too much equipment to move around.
  2. We can accommodate up to 4 class sessions (maximum 40 students each) during the morning. Class periods should be minimum 45 minutes long. (~55 minute periods work best) Please note that we cannot accommodate block schedules.
  3. Short nutrition breaks during the morning classes are acceptable but the Mobile Lab should be meeting with students during all class periods during the visit (no prep or lunch periods).
  4. The last class must end no later than 12:30 pm.
  5. The classroom we work out of should have several power outlets and access to water.
  6. Teachers are expected to be present at all times of our visit and to maintain classroom discipline.
  7. Teachers are expected to coordinate with their school's master calendar to avoid drills, assemblies, and excessive students absences due to other activities.
  8. Classroom access must be available 1hr before first class.

For more information, contact:
Dona Mapston, Salk Education Specialist: mapston@salk.edu


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