The corn industry has made major advances in the last thirty years. Many of these advancements have come on the heels of an increased incorporation of biotechnology into the seed development sector. Since 1996, when the first herbicide resistant varieties were brought into production, many of the most important advancements have developed thanks to countless hours spent in laboratories developing and cultivating new varieties. The skills we need to develop in the next generations of these scientists must be discretely taught. There is no better way to do that than through hands-on laboratory experiences. Simply put, there is no substitution for putting the tools in the hands of the learner. In this investigation, students will have an opportunity to develop skills relative to volumetric measurement on a very small scale. Students will be using adjustable volumetric pipettes to accurately measure small amounts of liquids, as precisely as possible, using authentic tools that can be found in 21st century labs across the country and the world. Students will also see a crossover between the development of lab skills and the art of lab work by precisely depositing specific volumes in order to create patterns or pictures of their own design.
Be aware of students with sensitivity to certain artificial dyes. Using food grade dyes (liquid food coloring) eliminates most safety concerns.
Length of Time for Preparation: 10 min
Length of Time for Classroom Teaching: 30-45 minutes or longer depending on your preference
Classroom Discussion: Introduce the topic and assess students for prior understanding:
Discussion of Accuracy and Precision:
Part 1: Overall pipette function, Volume selection and use: Technique and accuracy.
Use Pipette Technique PowerPoint
Note: The PowerPoint includes photos of proper use and technique for students to reference
Part 2: The right tool for the job?
Scenario: You are in a lab setting with very limited access to lab equipment. You have been tasked with the job of pipetting 2 ml of sample onto a surface. You only have two tools to use, a micropipette, with variable volume selections, and a scale. Your job is to figure out what setting to use in order to pipette the 2 ml of sample with both accuracy and precision.
PART 3: Analysis and Decision time:
Note: Some students have difficulties steadying their hand when using pipettes. As precision in sample placement is part of proper technique, it is important to go slow and provide plenty of time for student to practice before any lab practicums or skills assessments. One possible aid to students is to place both elbows on the table while grasping the pipette in both hands during use. This technique allows for more stability by providing support for the arms and wrists.
During these activities students will have developed some basic laboratory skills that will allow them to experience, on a very cursory level, the act of doing science precisely, while maintaining good technique for accuracy. As with all research, repeatable data is one of the major keys to success, and without proper technique and precise equipment that goal is not achievable. Whether using a wrench, screwdriver, or pipette, there is always a right tool for the job. This lab allows students to develop those skills, while also providing them with an experience to see how some simple techniques will allow them to become marketable in the biotech field, as well as other types of labs around the country and the world.
As a possible lab practicum have students show you each step as they go through the process of depositing two samples of different volumes, combining samples, and changing the volume of the pipette to withdraw the whole combined sample, with one sample draw, as outlined in Part 1. This shows proper technique and is one step closer to using them in an actual lab setting.
Using mathematical models to draw conclusions is a major part of research. It is not only important to know how to do the work and collect the data, but also to analyze the data in determining what the data means. Students must understand how mathematical models are utilized as tools just as any other equipment in the lab. Numbers don’t tell us much; it is what those number represent that provide us with meaningful information we can use to draw conclusions.
Biotechnology and agriculture have been working hand in hand since humans started domesticating plants and animals. Humans have worked towards creating and finding specific breeds and lines of organisms in order to reach the ultimate goal of meeting the growing needs of humanity. In the 21st century, lab work and skills are very much a part of that solution. Jobs in fields such as biofuel development, food safety and product development, micro plant propagation, seed development, molecular biology, pathology, biochemistry, geneticists, entomologists, agronomists, and many others will be the key to the future of agriculture. Agriculture needs highly skilled individuals, with solid backgrounds in laboratory practices and practical work, if they are going to fill the positions that are needed to solve the problems of producing and protecting our resources and ourselves.
Any educator electing to perform demonstrations is expected to follow NSTA Minimum Safety Practices and Regulations for Demonstrations, Experiments, and Workshops, which are available at http://static.nsta.org/pdfs/MinimumSafetyPracticesAndRegulations.pdf, as well as all school policies and rules and all state and federal laws, regulations, codes and professional standards. Educators are responsible for abiding appropriate legal standards and better professional practices under a duty of care to make laboratories and demonstrations in and out of the classroom as safe as possible. If in doubt, do not perform the demonstrations.
Investing in teachers is a priority therefore the Kansas Corn Commission is committed to providing materials and training to help teachers excel in the classroom. Teachers who seek to expand their knowledge and skill of connecting science with agriculture are encouraged to attend a Seed to STEM workshop.