Pioneering AUNE Student Introduces a Tiny Nematode to Science Education

Micah DepperWhen Micah was given the job of reworking the genetics curriculum, he proposed using Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode research model, in the classroom. C. elegans is the Goldilocks organismcomplex enough to be able to study human neurological development, but small enough to fit on the tip of a pen, Micah wrote. Though C. elegans are much easier to culture than fruit flies, and powerful enough for Nobel prize-winning research, few people have attempted to bring them into high schools.

Micah got a helping hand from Dan Chase, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who donated materials and strains of nematodes. Four Rivers bought him two new microscopes and laboratory supplies.

Micah first met C. elegans while working in the research laboratory of Greg Hermann, chair of the Biology Program at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where Micah earned his BS in biology. He fell in love with research and with C. elegans. I also loved the process of designing my own experiments to learn more about the way the world works, Micah said. I wanted my students to have this experienceto know that science is a living, dynamic process, not a bunch of facts discovered by long-dead aristocrats and catalogued in textbooks.

Students can only learn science by doing it, Micah said. I believe that if I gave thirty-six tenth-graders a little bit of training, they could use C. elegans to teach themselves everything they’d ever want to know about genetics.

Ultimately, I hope this experience empowers them to take ownership of their learning, to courageously apply themselves to new challenges, and to think critically about research and the ways we generate knowledge in the modern age.

Micah is student-teaching alongside four AUNE alumni. In fact, all four of Four Rivers’ science teachers are AUNE alums.  You can read about them here.