Middle School Girls Learn About The Future of DNA Sequencing

9/5/2012

In Febuary, 2011, the entire Campus Middle School student body came to Loomis Laboratory to learn about DNA as part of their forensics themed “Forum Week”. Students performed a DNA fingerprinting technique using gel electrophoresis to solve a crime. Then they spent time with CPLC scientist Alec Aksimentiev, his postdoctoral researcher Jeff Comer, undergraduate researcher Anthony Ho and CPLC Teaching Fellow Janet Sheung to learn about the future of DNA identification: nanopore DNA sequencing! Students were introduced to DNA structure and the concept of a nanometer using a few hands-on activities. Then they learned about graphene nanopores and copied the method used by the Nobel-prizewinning team to exfoliate layers of graphene from graphite using Scotch tape.

Students were introduced to DNA structure and the concept of a nanometer using a few hands-on activities
Students were introduced to DNA structure and the concept of a nanometer using a few hands-on activities

The students used a microscope to observe the thin (perhaps single) layers of graphene. Students then learned some basic electrostatics by placing the same or opposite charges on two suspended beads and then applying an electric field. Finally, students used a tabletop model of a nanopore experiment created by the Physics Department teaching labs to learn more about the technique. This model employs a fish tank divided into two compartments by a plastic membrane containing an inch-sized pore. The tank was filled with salty water and a pump was used to create a water flow through the pore, which was part of an electrical circuit used to power a small light bulb. A box was placed over the tank so that students could only see the light bulb. As small floaters on one side of the tank permeated the pore, they reduced the current and caused the light to dim in an analogous way to DNA passing through a nanopore. Students were asked to guess the relative width and length of the floaters using only the brightness of the light bulb.

A video of this demonstration is available online at http://bionano.physics.illinois.edu/features/nanoporeFishTank.mov. More photos from this event are available at: http://flickr.com/gp/28913490@N07/9d7y79. Photo credit: Maxim Prigozhin.