This grant seeks funding to purchase a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine for classroom use in biology and AP biology courses at NTHS. A PCR machine is a analytical instrument that precisely heats and cools small liquid samples to allow biological enzymes to copy DNA, generating millions of copies of a specific DNA sequence from a small and non-specific starting pool. (The process is described in further detail here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUBJtHwHASA). This process won the 1993 Nobel prize in chemistry and is based on the idea that a DNA polymerase, copying enzyme, from a heat loving bacteria can still operate at high temperatures, but DNA itself will denature, or split up, into multiple strands at those same high temperatures. This allows the exponential copying of specific DNA molecules in a sample, by precisely modifying the temperature, up and down, of the samples themselves. This is what a thermal cycler does. It makes rapid, timed changes to precise temperatures of a set of biological samples.
A PCR machine is a standard part of a modern biology laboratory and allows scientists to complete a number of modern molecular biology protocols. Having access to this will allow teachers to complete relevant and engaging labs with classes. Examples include: preparing samples of DNA from supermarket bought fish to determine if the label matches the actual species, preparing samples for DNA sequencing of bacteria from Lake Tahoe water samples to potentially identify new bacteria present in the lake, creating DNA samples to use in bacterial transformation activities to creating glowing bacteria, among others. These tools will allow science students at NTHS to get real world experience using professional level equipment and doing modern, interesting molecular biology experiments. This is a tremendous help because students are able to contextualize and apply the scientific concepts they are studying in their courses with their own hands. With the transition to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) this is now the expectation and the purchase of this tool will allow NTHS students to keep up with the now increasingly rigorous standards. As the district broadly transitions to NGSS science instruction, students students will need to engage with tools and labs like these in order to build the 21st century skills. This skills are paramount for success in future science careers, and success on upcoming NGSS-aligned science assessments.