Myong, BioE Undergrads Expose Middle Schoolers to DNA/Cell Measurement

BioEngineering Researcher Sua Myong
Bioengineering researcher Sua Myong

October 31, 2012

On Wednesday afternoons, a number of Illinois Bioengineering undergrads can be found at Jefferson Middle School teaching seventh and eighth graders about science. The brain child of Bioengineering professor Sua Myong, this year-long, after-school outreach program funded by the Center for the Physics of Living Cells meets once a week to expose students to techniques used to measure things in cell biology. Says Myong: "I want to give the students an idea that biology can be measured quantitatively. This can be very beneficial to different research and biomedical areas, such as disease diagnosis and drug design."

Myong asserts the goal of her program is to make science "fun and approachable" and to "build confidence that this is not really far from what they do in everyday life." Along with audio visuals, her program will offer lots of hands-on activities, because, according to Myong, "Science becomes real to them when they engage in hands-on activities; so we are going to make, visualize, and measure biological materials."

BioE undergrad interacting with Jefferson Middle School students during after-school program.
BioE undergrad Linna Guan explains measurement technique to Jefferson Middle School students participating in Myong's after-school program.

To help with the program, Myong has recruited some undergraduate Bioengineering students who are excited about outreach activity; they will not only be team teaching with her, but helping her develop the lesson plans and the accompanying activities. These undergraduate students have already taken Myong's "Cellular Bioengineering" course last year. "I think that the undergrad students are going to come up with many creative ideas, so I am looking forward to fun interactions with them. I don't have to motivate them; they are already motivated to participate."

Myong reports that many activities will deal with DNA, which lends itself to measurement. "I do a lot of DNA research, and there are a lot of cool techniques that I can explain by using DNA as a bio molecule. We can measure DNA length, concentrations, and the temperatures at which the double-stranded DNA melts into single-stranded DNA. Each lesson will be accompanied by a hands-on activity through which the students will make measurement." Even the snacks are going to reflect their lessons; one snack they plan to use is Twizzlers, because "the twisted version of Twizzlers look just like the double helix of the DNA, so we will unzip the Twizzler to mimic the unwinding of DNA."

Some examples of first semester lessons working with DNA will include DNA concentration, melting temperature, length, sequencing, polymerase chain reaction, and recombinant DNA techniques, as well as forensic science; during the second semester, they will also look at topics about cells, such as organelles, stem cells, cytoskeleton, and both gene and neuro therapy. Myong intends to try to link each of the topics to the biomedical field, specifically diseases: "We are going to try link the lessons to human disease topics. Through the little questions at the end, we are going to try and make them think about, 'How can this be useful for disease detection or treatment of disease?'"

Jefferson Middle School students participate during hands-on activity measuring absorption.
Jefferson Middle School students and Illinois BioE sophomore Thomas Deleon (far right) do hands-on activity to measure the transmission of light through solutions which represent various concentrations of DNA.

Myong reports that her passion for early science education and communicating her research to youngsters came from "interacting with my own kids, thinking about the ways and vocabulary that they will understand, because I want them to understand a little bit of my research too. This way, they also understand why Mommy spends a lot of time in the lab talking with students." She also reports that her ability to distill her research down into something kids can understand was perfected through interactions with her children's friends, who would ask, "I heard you were a scientist; what do you do?" So she worked on explaining it in language they could understand.

Jefferson Middle School students use laser to measure light penetration during hands-on activity.
Jefferson Middle School students use laser to measure light transmission during a hands-on activity.

Myong relates an anecdote about one of her first experiences realizing that her work could appeal to kids. A while ago, she did a demo for some second grade kids who visited the Institute for Genomic Biology. She recalls being in a dark microscope room where lasers are used to illuminate surfaces to look at florescent molecules:

"So these kids came into the microscope room, and when I turned the laser on, they became all excited. I thought, "Whoa! All of these little boys and girls jumping up and down from excitement!" But it was a moment of spark. When the lasers came on, they responded, 'Wow, this is the coolest thing; I get to play with lasers, and lasers come through optics and bounce on mirrors!' For some, such an experience will be a life-changing experience."

Sua Myong works with Jefferson eighth grader Allegra Amos during lesson on plasmids.
Sua Myong works with Allegra Amos during lesson on plasmids.

Why 7th and 8th graders? Myong's eyes were opened regarding the need to target this age group when her daughter got into high school.

"What she told me kind of shocked me. A lot of girls in 9th and 10th grades are already losing interest in math and science. They perceive these studies as something reserved for the special few. So I thought that maybe high school was too late to reach out…Maybe middle school would be where they are more open to ideas and seeing more possibilities for their future careers."

For one eighth grader, Allegra Amos, the program may have tipped the balance in favor of bioengineering over a possible career in astronomy. Her favorite activity? Forensic science and the activity where they cut DNA strands to match those on the crime scene. Regarding the program, she shared: "This is a really fun class. I recommend it for anybody that likes science or bioengineering."

Myong was invited to implement her program at Jefferson by science teacher Jennifer White, herself an Illinois alumnus in cell biology. White believes the students are enjoying the challenge.

Jefferson Middle School student enjoying one of the after-school sessions.
Jefferson Middle School student enjoying one of the sessions.

"When it first started, I was a little hesitant. I was unsure if it would be over their heads, if they would be overwhelmed, so I really picked the highest of the high science students to be in this. As soon as the first lesson started, I saw that, with the hands-on activities, the students were instantly enthralled by it. These are kids that maybe aren't getting [challenged] within the regular curriculum; it's a lot of stuff that they already know, and teachers will add enrichment to that, but they're not necessarily being pushed as far as they can be pushed. So this gives them an opportunity outside of school to really explore. And I don't think they always understand it a hundred percent in there, but they're thrilled to be a part of something that is hard for them and that challenges them and really makes them think. So it's been very positive feedback. I talked with a couple after the first meeting just to get some feedback on what they were feeling; everyone I spoke with was really positive about it and excited."

Along with communicating the fun aspects of her work to the youngsters, in the back of Myong's mind is a hope that through the outreach, she might be influencing some of them to choose science as a career: "I don't know what they are going to become later on, but they would have tasted what it means to be a scientist, a bioengineer."

BioE student Manu Kumar (right) works with student during hands-on activity about plasmids.
BioE student Manu Kumar (right) works with student during hands-on activity about plasmids.

White agrees that the program could steer some of the kids toward careers in cell biology: "I think that it definitely could; it kind of opens up their eyes to what's out there. Our 7th grade does a really nice unit on the cell and genetics, but it's pretty superficial, like what an average middle schooler should be able to understand. So then this obviously takes that to the next level and makes those connections. And they get to see what real graduate students and Ph.D. students are working on and inspire them in a lot of ways."

The program has also been a positive experience for Myong's Bioengineering protégés. Manu Kumar, who has been considering teaching, enjoyed the experience. "Walking in, I was like, "Oh, I don't know how this is going to go.' It was kind of weird. I didn't think I'd be able to teach them. I think they hopefully learned a little bit. Or maybe if they see it again, they can at least say, 'Oh, I've seen this before, and I kind of know what's going on,' so even that would be good."

Author/photographer: Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative

More: 6-8 Outreach, BioE, CPLC, Faculty Feature, Jefferson Middle School, Women in STEM, 2012

Three students in Myong's after-school program use a laser to perform measurement during a hands-on activity.
Three students in Myong's after-school program use a laser to perform measurement during a hands-on activity.

SOLIDarity EXperiences (SOLIDEX) through the Eyes of Children

What do children aged 11-13 in two countries think about solidarity?
Full Story

Students launch ASL STEM Vocabulary App Company

Students launch ASL STEM Vocabulary App Company
Full Story

Innovation, Inspiration on display at the Undergraduate Research Symposium

Undergraduate Research Week took place April 23-29, 2023, and culminated Thursday, April 27, 2023
Full Story

What would you like to see – 3D printers? Magnets? Solar-powered racing cars? Robobrawl?

March 28, 2023
EOH occurs Friday, March 31, and Saturday, April 1, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Full Story

Tour of Illinois’ Materials Research Lab through I-MRSEC sparks Franklin students’ interest in Materials Science

March 1, 2023
Students from the Champaign middle school had a tour of the Material Research Laboratory (MRL) in early February.
Full Story

Nobel Project’s End-of-Year Zoom Bash Recaps Learning

February 1, 2022
The STEM Illinois Nobel Project held a special, end-of-the-year Zoom event celebrating its participating students’ achievements.
Full Story

It’s not magic, it’s physics

January 26, 2022
In Franklin STEAM Academy, Musical Magnetism program makes STEM fun, approachable.
Full Story

Program prepares STEM educators to teach all students

November 30, 2021
This summer, a group of educators gathered to learn about engaging STEM activities they can do with their students.
Full Story

Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program

November 11, 2021
Undergrads get a taste of research through I-MRSEC’s REU program.
Full Story

Goldstein’s Renaissance Engineering Summer Camp

November 1, 2021
Goldstein’s Renaissance Engineering Summer Camp Incorporates Art, Design, Mechatronics, and Mentoring
Full Story

TechTogether Chicago to Redefine the Hacker Stereotype

July 10, 2021
New workshops that can help inspire students to pursue careers in technology..
Full Story

Aerospace Engineering Launches Virtual Summer Camps to Pique Students’ Interest in Aero.

July 2, 2021
Design an aircraft then watch it soar after launching it with a huge rubber band. Build a Mars lander to safely transport a real egg, then test the contraption by dropping it from a second story window.
Full Story

Undergrads Experience Materials Science Research Courtesy of the I-MRSEC REU

June 16, 2021
Ten undergraduate students are spending the summer of 2021 discovering what research is like.
Full Story

MatSE Afterschool Academy

MatSE Afterschool Academy

June 14, 2021
MatSE Afterschool Academy to Introduce Students to Materials Science and Beyond.
Full Story

Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest

Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest

June 14, 2021
Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest While Researching Task Collaboration.
Full Story

Exposes Franklin Middle Schoolers to Science, CS

What Studying Engineering at Illinois is Like?

May 25, 2021
NSBE’s Michaela Horn Exposes Franklin Middle Schoolers to Science, CS, and What Studying Engineering at Illinois is Like.
Full Story

Jenny Saves a Convertible.

Children’s-Book-Writing Duo/

May 19, 2021
Convertibles and Thunderstorms—Children’s-Book-Writing Duo on Their Way Thanks to Illinois Training and Encouragement from Mentors.
Full Story

Improve Learning in Engineering

Improve Learning in Engineering

May 17, 2021
Liebenberg Espouses Mini-Projects to Engage Students Emotionally, Improve Learning in Engineering.
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

BIOE435 Capstone Projects

May 12, 2021
BIOE435 Capstone Projects - BIOE Seniors Use Knowledge/Skills to Problem Solve.
Full Story

Elani and Gonzalo shine a UV light on a rose that has absorbed a solution that has made it fluorescent.

Illinois Scientists Shine a (UV) Light on Fluorescence

May 7, 2021
What is fluorescence? What causes it?
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

HackIllinois 2021 “Rekindled Connections” With The Tech Community

May 5, 2021
Annual student hackathon HackIllinois with the aim of developing projects on current problems facing society.
Full Story

A Shane Mayer-Gawlik image of the Bridger Aurora, part of his Night Skies photography collection exhibited at the Art-Science Festival.

The Art-Science Festival

April 26, 2021
Illinois Art-Science Festival: Illuminating the Universe...from the Quantum World to the Cosmos.
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

Illinois Engineering Seniors Prepared to Change the World

April 22, 2021
Ready. Set. Go! Illinois Engineering Seniors Prepared to Change the World.
Full Story

HML 2021 Virtual Health

HML 2021 Virtual Health

April 19, 2021
Make-a-Thon Gives Citizen Scientists a Shot at Making Their Health-Related Innovations a Reality.
Full Story

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

April 7, 2021
I-MRSEC’s Music Video for EOH ’21 Plugs Graphene, 2D Materials
Full Story

Health Make-a-Thon Orientation

HML 2021 Health Orientation

March 30, 2021
HML 2021 Health Make-a-Thon Orientation Prepares Finalists for Competition.
Full Story

Andrea Perry shows Franklin students how to take apart the magnetic drawing board they received in their kit

Musical Magnetism

March 25, 2021
Musical Magnetism: Encouraging Franklin Middle Schoolers to Express Science Via the Arts.
Full Story

Carmen Paquette street performing.

Love of Science

March 9, 2021
Paquette Conveys Her Love of Science, Dance to Franklin STEAM Students Via Musical Magnetism.
Full Stroy

An Engineering Exploration participant exhibits the tower they built as part of the engineering challenge related to Civil Engineering

Engineering Exploration

March 2, 2021
SWE’s Engineering Exploration Outreach Lives Up to Its Name.

ChiS&E’s Family STEM Day

ChiS&E’s Family STEM Day

February 23, 2021
Helps Chicago Youngsters Progress Along the STEM Pipeline Toward Engineering.

Kathny Walsh

Kathy Walsh

February 17, 2021
On Her First Foray into STEAM, Kathy Walsh Acquaints Franklin Students with Microscopy, Haiku.

ChiS&E student

ChiS&E CPS Students

January 19, 2021
Illinois Undergrads Encourage ChiS&E CPS Students Toward Possible Careers in Engineering.

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

CISTEME365 Provides Year-Round PD/Community

January 4, 2021
to Illinois Teachers in Support of Informal STEM Education Efforts to Underserved Students.