Friday July 27, 2012

PITTSFIELD

Skin-slicing blades. Euthanized mice. Cancer cells.

Nearly 20 rising high school juniors and seniors had their hands on the above this week -- with purple nitrile gloves and the supervision of biology experts -- at the third Nuclea Summer Science Institute at Berkshire Community College.

The cutting blades and cancer cells were used in a lab lesson to cut, plate and analyze cells and tissue, and the mice were used to learn the process of necroscopy.

"This is real world," said Julie Hannum, coordinator of BCC's Career Vocational Technical Edu cation Linkage Initiative.

The institute is a free, weeklong program that students with a goal of improving their science skills can apply to. Nearly 140 students have participated in the program to date.

"The best thing is it gets kids starting to think about their future," said Markie Pannesco, a research assistant for Nuclea Biotechnologies in Pittsfield who helped organize the summer program.

She said the program offers a comprehensive opportunity for students to prepare for higher education or a career in the sciences.

"When you start any new job, you're going to be learning the basics first," Pannesco said. "But if you have an idea of the work earlier, then you'll learn a lot faster."

Amber Newton, Melissa Sirikan, Paul Green and Lauren Jones said they applied to NSSI because they are interested in studying and working in science fields.

Newton, who will be a senior at Lee High School in the fall, said she's hoping to enter a pre-medical degree program.

Sirikan will be a junior at Wahconah Regional High School this year and is an aspiring marine biologist. Last year, she attended the two-week Acadia Institute of Oceanography in Maine. This year, she stayed closer to home to attend NSSI.

She said participating in these programs "prepares you so you can decide if you really want to do it."

Green and Jones are both going to be seniors at Taconic High School, where they took Advanced Placement biology. They said they returned to NSSI for a second year to gain more experience and hands-on practice in the labs.

"There are people and equipment here we wouldn't normally have access to at school," Green said.

On Thursday, students sliced tissue samples using a microtome, a machine which costs about $25,000, according to Pannesco.

Ralph Nettleton will be a junior at St. Joseph Central High School. Unlike many of his classmates, he's not sure what field he'll choose to work in. He said he joined the institute simply to have the opportunity to do something.

"Everything you do is investing in yourself," he said.