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April 20 , 2000
  Vol. 29, No. 19

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Photos by Jo McCulty

Linden-McKinley High School student Lewis Pankey gets an eyeful of DNA equipment in action.

 

Biological Sciences makes DNA connection with area high schools

By Randy Gammage

Several College of Biological Sciences faculty and their undergraduate students are turning Columbus high school classrooms into mock crime labs and guiding the teen-agers in using DNA fingerprinting techniques to apprehend a "suspect."

So far, the group of biochemistry, microbiology and molecular genetics faculty and students has taken its roving DNA lab to Linden-McKinley, Beechcroft and Fort Hayes Arts and Academic high schools, with a stop at West High School on the horizon.

Students participate in 90-minute workshops on three consecutive days. The project includes using DNA analysis to solve a video whodunit produced by theatre students at Ohio State.

Amanda Simcox, associate professor of molecular genetics, says the outreach project is much broader than a DNA experiment.

"It's not really about grades. It's about learning to love science," she said.

Simcox got the project rolling by obtaining $20,000 through a President's Council on Outreach and Engagement grant and matching funds from the College of Biological Sciences and the Departments of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.

"The average high school is not equipped to do these kinds of experiments, so we deliberately bought portable, state-of-the-art equipment so we could bring it to these high schools,"said Simcox, who specializes in genetic research, specifically investigating a gene implicated in breast cancer.

During the high school workshops, Simcox explains how DNA fingerprinting works. DNA, a nucleic acid that carries the genetic information determining individual hereditary characteristics, consists of two long chains of nucleotides twisted into a double helix, and is the major constituent of chromosomes. Electrophoresis is performed in class, using a gel that looks like a slab of clear Jell-O. The gel allows students to see the DNA, which is stained blue. The gel separates the DNA according to the size of the fragments collected at the crime scene and forms a DNA fingerprint.

High school students also watch the crime unfold on "The DNA Files," a video written and produced by Ohio State theatre students under the direction of Daniel Boord, associate professor in the Department of Theatre (see story, this page).

After a student's science experiment is sabotaged in the video, the high school becomes the forensic lab and the 10th-graders become the scientists. High school students, guided by members of the biochemistry, microbiology and molecular genetics undergraduate student clubs at Ohio State, learn DNA techniques and solve the crime by the end of the three-day workshop.

Leigh Ellen Mamlin, biology teacher at Linden, welcomed the hands-on experience.

"We've been doing a lot of talking about DNA in the classroom, and this is the first time they are actually seeing it in action,"she said.

 

Teacher Leigh Mamlin displays a DNA model.

 

Simcox said the key to the workshop was pairing college and high school students.

"The uniqueness is that we bring out a large team of people so you get small groupings and the educational value has a really high impact,"Simcox added.

The program structure also allows the University group to reach a larger audience. If conducted at Ohio State, Simcox said, the group could reach 25 students per workshop; conducted at the high schools, program leaders can reach 50 to 125 students per workshop.

The reviews to date are glowing. Mamlin said the program definitely encouraged the Linden students to get involved.

"One of the most exciting things to me is seeing the interaction between our students and the OSU students,"Mamlin said.

Joshua Pressley, a 10th-grader at Linden, said he enjoyed the DNA workshop.

"I find it interesting that you can find out who committed a crime just from a piece of hair or something."

Sheena Bailey, an 11th-grader at Linden, said the workshop is "very interesting. It's not an everyday biology assignment that we're doing."

And DNA is not some remote scientific concept. Simcox said today's students need to familiarize themselves with DNA and how it will affect their lives. Technology is on the verge of being able to map a newborn baby's genetics to reveal the child's genetic predispositions.

"It will be technically possible soon -- should we do it?"Simcox said, asking the students to discuss the implications in their small groups.

In addition, DNA fingerprinting will continue to offer many career options in the future. With biotech companies on the rise and the large salaries that accompany many technology jobs, DNA fingerprinting is one of many career options Linden faculty members want the students to explore.

"We just want to put the thirst in their mouths,"said Carlton Jenkins, Linden-McKinley's principal.

The DNA workshop complements a larger program at Linden called Project Grad. Linden is one of only six schools in the national program started in Houston, Texas, according to Jenkins.

"The main intent is to improve academics in a ZIP code that has been low-performing,"he said. "There has been a high emphasis on getting students to graduate from high school and into college."

At the end of the four-year program, if they meet certain criteria such as maintaining a 2.5 grade point average, students are eligible for merit awards ranging anywhere from $500 to $1,700 per year to help pay for college tuition, Jenkins said.

Mamlin will also stimulate Linden students' interest in college by conducting site visits to Ohio State and Columbus State Community College this summer.

Meanwhile, Simcox hopes to expand the DNA workshops by obtaining additional funds either through Ohio State or a national agency such as the National Science Foundation.

 

 

 

OSU Biological Sciences student Lauren Heban, right, shows Robert Grigsby how to use a micropipette.

 

Theatre students' video complements DNA workshop

By Randy Gammage

Leave it to a group of college theatre students to weave a dry and hard-to-imagine science concept like DNA into a hip and easy-to-follow crime mystery that high school students can't wait to solve.

Under the direction of Daniel Boord, associate professor in the Department of Theatre, several students in his video production class undertook a class project during winter quarter to produce a video for the DNA fingerprinting workshops being conducted through the College of Biological Sciences at area high schools. The result was the "The DNA Files,"a video whodunit written, edited and produced by theatre students.

"It's a really wonderful opportunity for the students, not only to see their work put to good use, but to help high school students learn science," Boord said. He said the seven-minute video is a spoof on "The X-Files," the popular television series.

The OSU script was written by Ross Headley, a junior majoring in communications, who took Boord's Theatre Video Production I class to advance his video skills. He thought the high school students would be more interested in the creative, surreal "X Files"approach. "I decided 'The X Files' was a way to add a little flavor to the project -- to make it a little more hip and a little more modern,"he said.

Headley's story features Todd, a high school student whose science project is sabotaged. There are four suspects: the school bully, Todd's project partner, the teacher's pet and the school janitor. The FBI is called in to collect evidence and conduct interrogations. It turns out that blood and hair traces are left at the scene, so the agents send the samples for DNA testing.

After the video is shown, the DNA workshop turns a high school classroom into a mock forensics lab and the 10th-graders become the scientists who solve the crime through DNA fingerprinting.

Headley earned the project's script-writing credit by winning a competition sponsored by the College of Biological Sciences.

Headley, who has been producing short videos since high school, said the project taught him about teamwork. "As a group, one of the biggest things we learned was how to work with other people efficiently,"he said.

Jason Swank, a senior theatre major, said the most difficult part of directing was accommodating the varied schedules of actors, videographers and others involved. Work was completed in nine-hour shifts on the weekends.

"The five of us worked very hard and came up with a video that we hope will be used in other school districts as long as the technology is still current,"said David Gelb, editor of the video. While normal production costs would have been high, Gelb said donated assistance from Columbus-based Mills/James Productions Inc., where he was serving an internship, trimmed the cost to a couple of hundred dollars.

 

 

OSU math professor receives prestigious award

Japan society awards its 2000 Algebra Prize

By Pam Frost

Thirty years ago, Koichiro Harada helped blaze a trail for an entire branch of mathematics to follow. But don't call him a pioneer.

Even though the Japan Mathematical Society used that word when it honored him with its year 2000 Algebra Prize, Harada resists the pioneer label. Instead, he feels fortunate that he was able to contribute to the field of group theory when this form of abstract algebra held more questions than answers.

"Thirty years ago -- that was the golden age for group theory, and there were many problems that remained to be solved,"Harada said. "I was so lucky that I was born a scholar in that particular era."

Harada, professor of mathematics at Ohio State for most of the last 30 years, traveled to Japan on March 27 to receive his prize. He is only the fifth mathematician to receive the award, and the first one working outside of Japan. The society awarded him a certificate and prize money totaling 10,000 Yen, or $1,000.

"This is a great honor for Professor Harada and the Mathematics Department at Ohio State,"said Peter March, professor and chair of the department. "The recognition it brings to Koichiro's work is most deserving."

According to another Ohio State math professor, Ron Solomon, Harada's work made an enormous impact on group theory, both mathematically and psychologically. Since 1950, he said, some 100 mathematicians around the world have toiled to classify certain types of finite sets of numbers called "simple groups."As the years went on, the mathematical theorems to describe these groups grew deeper and more complex.

"Still, most experts did not believe that these specialized theorems could ever lead to a complete classification, at least not in our lifetimes," Solomon said. "The collaborative work of Harada and Daniel Gorenstein of Rutgers University between 1969 and 1973 was a key factor in changing people's minds."

Harada and Gorenstein's work was a bridge between the earlier specialized theorems and an overall strategy that could guide future mathematicians on their quest. Their massive 464-page treatise energized the field, Solomon said, and helped provide the momentum it needed to move forward to today. He predicts the work to finish the classification will continue for at least another decade.

Harada counts the years of work behind him -- and those still to come -- as time immersed in beauty. "This is such pure mathematics, very hard for anybody to describe. For me, it's a joy to determine the structure of this mathematical universe,"he said.

A native of Japan, Harada came to the United States in 1968 as a visiting member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. He joined the Ohio State faculty in 1971, during his collaboration with Gorenstein that led to their groundbreaking publication.

Another high point of Harada's career occurred during a year-long visit to Cambridge University in England in 1973, when he discovered a new simple group which now bears his name. Since then, he's continued his work with simple groups, and sparked considerable interest in the subject in Japan. In fact, he inspired the work of Masahiko Miyamoto of Tsukuba University, one of the world's leading mathematicians and a recipient of the 1999 Algebra Prize.

Founded in 1951, the Japan Mathematical Society now boasts approximately 9,000 members worldwide. Each year, the society honors members for their distinguished contribution to research in algebra and geometry.

 

 

Grand opening celebrates renovation of Hale Center

Several events are planned April 26 to celebrate the grand opening of the newly renovated Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center. Events begin at 11 a.m. and will continue until 10 p.m.

The Rev. Leon Sullivan will give the keynote address at 7 p.m. in Independence Hall.

As a board member of General Motors in the 1970s, Sullivan developed the Sullivan Principles, which promote racial equality in employment practices. The code called for nonsegregation of work facilities, equal pay, development of training programs and increased supervisory roles for nonwhites, and improvement of employees' lives outside the work environment.

Originally intended to improve living conditions for nonwhites and help end apartheid in South Africa, the principles also are widely known and followed by U.S. companies operating elsewhere in the world.

Sullivan also is founder of Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC), which has provided career assistance and skills training to more than 3 million people in 27 states and 18 countries.

Also scheduled on April 26 are tours of the Hale Center for the University community and the public from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; entertainment by the African American Voices at The Ohio State University, Tony West and the Imani Dancers, and the Ohio State University Jazz Ensemble until 6 p.m.; and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 8:30 p.m.

The Hale Center opened in 1989 and has represented the University's commitment to the personal, educational, social and cultural development of minority students from around the country and the world. It provides academic support, such as tutoring, study spaces and a computer laboratory, and cultural activities, including lectures, gallery tours and celebrations.

Hale is vice provost and professor emeritus at Ohio State, and a year ago, he was named Distinguished University Representative and Consultant, assisting with student recruitment, fund raising and alumni relations.

For more information about the event, call 292-0074.

 

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