October 2, 2012
Tyler Beach spent a summer conducting environmental health research at the University of Rochester thanks to support from an NIEHS administrative supplement grant. He can draw upon this summer research experience when teaching science at Greece Athena High School in Rochester, N.Y.
Beach worked in the lab of Professor Paige Lawrence, Ph.D. With NIEHS funding, she is studying how maternal exposure to an environmental factor can lead to changes in the offspring’s immune system. She enjoys having high-school teachers in her lab and says that they learn incredibly quickly and work independently. She met Beach when one of his students volunteered in her lab. He teaches a three-year science research elective that requires each student to carry out research under the supervision of a scientist mentor.
“High school teachers have not typically been exposed to environmental health sciences or to toxicology and these scientific areas are not part of the high school science curriculum,” Lawrence said. “Learning about environmental health sciences and toxicology in the lab can give the teacher experiences to bring to their normal curriculum.”
“NIEHS Administrative Supplements for Summer Research Experiences for Students and Science Teachers are designed to give high school science teachers, high school students, or undergraduate students an idea of what it’s like to work on a real research project in the environmental health sciences,” said Mike Humble, Ph.D., NIEHS program administrator. Funds from the supplement provided Beach with a stipend for the summer, which is important for K-12 teachers looking for summer employment, he says.
During the summer research experience in Lawrence’s lab, Beach collaborated with a graduate student who was interested in K-12 education. Together they refined and optimized procedures for carefully characterizing particular “epigenetic changes” that might be involved in the immune system changes that Lawrence is studying. Epigenetic changes can affect gene expression without changing the DNA code.
“I now have a better appreciation for the complexity of the immune system, the large number of chemicals we are exposed to every day, and the multitude of ways that environmental exposures can affect us,” Beach said.
Beach said that the summer research experience exposed him to new laboratory techniques and will help him prepare and guide his students as they perform research. He has a greater understanding of the work expectations in a research laboratory, the types of setbacks that can occur, how to solve problems independently, and the pacing of research.
Three of Beach’s top students worked in the lab for a week during the summer. He also learned more about the career opportunities available in the environmental health sciences, information he can share with the potential future scientists in his classes.
“Sometimes in the day-to-day running of experiments it’s easy to forget why we all do science in the first place,” Lawrence said. “Having a high school teacher in the lab reminds the graduate students, post docs, and lab technicians just how fun it is to do science.”