Worm School: Collaborative Neuroscience Research with High School Students

Saturday, February 13, 2016
Elizabeth Waters, Rockefeller University, New York, NY
At The Rockefeller University, the Science Outreach Program and the Laboratory of Developmental Genetics collaborated on a project offering New York City high school students the opportunity to engage in data collection for an ongoing research study. The aims of the collaboration were to provide an authentic, rigorous, and engaging research experience to a large number of students from under-served communities in New York City, and to facilitate large-scale data collection for the sponsor laboratory. The Worm School program involves three components:  1) introduction to the research question using a flipped classroom approach and a school visit by a Science Outreach Program staff member, 2) experimentation in the Science Outreach Teaching Laboratory performing research and collecting data, and 3) completion of data analysis in school and recommendations for rescreening. The scientific goal of the project is to understand the role of glial cells in memory formation. Behavioral adaptation of the nematode C. elegans, in response to prolonged exposure to the odor benzaldehyde, was used as the memory paradigm. Using established techniques, post-embryonic RNAi knockdown was used to downregulate the expression of 160 glia-enriched mRNAs. Animals were then assayed in a standard chemotaxis arena for adaptation defects. Nineteen candidate genes have been identified that are now under further study in the sponsor laboratory. More than 200 high school students in grades 9-12 have participated in the Worm School research program. The high school students showed immediate positive responses to the program that predict future long-term benefits through increased science self-efficacy and the validation of their interest in science and scientific careers.