North Shore students get to be crime scene investigators at Geneskool

There’s been a murder. The victim? Scientific ignorance.

Nearly 50 North Shore Students from Grades 9 through 12 are getting a crash course in scientific inquiry at a Geneskool Summer Science Program being hosted at Capilano University this week.

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The educational program, organized and run by the non-profit research organization Genome BC, is a week-long day camp where eager students are learning a series of molecular biology techniques in order to help solve a fun CSI-style “murder mystery.”

And while the faux detective work brings an element of surprise, mystery and excitement to the camp, these students are also being exposed to some of the key elements and techniques that scientists use every day, notes Evelyn Sun, director and instructor for Genome BC’s Geneskool Summer Science program.

The goal: “It’s to inspire more students to pursue a career in science and, more specifically, in fields that involve genetics,” Sun says.

Techniques inherit to the study of genetics, or scientific experiments more broadly, that students are learning this week include: pipetting, gram staining, bacterial classification, DNA extraction, polymerase chain reaction, karyotyping, gel electrophoresis, and more.

“I feel like all the fields – in medicine, in life science, in biology – all of them really need the basis of genetics and really, ultimately, are surrounding genetics,” Sun says.

Like any good mystery, it took its time to reveal itself during the first day of Geneskool on Aug. 20. In fact, Sun explains, camp organizers attempted to fake-out the students with something “boring” before things took a more exciting turn.

“We actually start off by telling them we’re going to do this one boring activity then all of a sudden this video interrupts our activity and it brings the story in,” she says. “We created a video where the president of Geneskool Corporation talks about the outbreak.”

The narrative for the camp’s “murder mystery” is two-fold, Sun explains, including a “viral outbreak” the students most solve using sound epidemiological and microbiological tools followed by a twist: the viral outbreak was an inside job – someone released the virus on purpose and someone else lost their life in the process.

“We need to figure out who really is involved using different forensic techniques,” Sun muses. “All our experiments follow the narrative of the story.”

What other summer camp lets youth hear a guest speaker talk about their captivating scientific career in the field of genetics in one moment, followed by a session on blood splatter analysis and then a bacterial growth lab in a real university laboratory the next? And all this before lunchtime, too.

Geneskool Summer Science Program runs at CapU until Aug. 24.

Genome BC advocates and leads genomics innovation on the West Coast and facilitates the integration of genomics into society.

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