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High school science teachers study biotechnology at Wake Forest this summer


July 15, 2008

Biotechnology is a growing part of the Piedmont Triad’s economy, and some local high school teachers are getting a chance to update their knowledge of the rapidly advancing science during a two-week summer workshop at Wake Forest University.

Fourteen high school science teachers from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will participate in “The Science Behind Biotechnology,” a two-week workshop being taught July 14-25 by Rebecca Alexander, associate professor of chemistry at Wake Forest.  This is the fourth year she has offered the summer program to area teachers.

“This workshop exposes teachers to the high-level scientific research being done at Wake Forest while providing them with practical tools they can take back to use in their own classrooms,” Alexander said.

During classroom sessions, the teachers discuss topical issues such as plastics and recycling, the forensic science made popular on TV shows like “CSI” and even the ethics of biologically engineered foods and stem cell research.  In the laboratory, the teachers learn hands-on activities they can replicate in their own classes such as observing enzyme activity in beef liver or isolating DNA from strawberries using household chemicals and cheesecloth.

Field trips are also part of the curriculum.  Participants visit the Piedmont Triad Research Park to see real-life examples of cutting-edge biotechnology at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the biopharmaceutical company Targacept.

The workshop fulfills continuing education credits, which are required of all teachers, but for some the experience is even more valuable.  Alexander said that many who attend her workshops are hesitant about teaching such advanced topics as biotechnology because the science is advancing rapidly.

A grant from the National Science Foundation funds Alexander’s summer workshops and underwrites her research into how the motions of certain proteins contribute to the chemical reactions in which they participate.  Better understanding the protein-making process could lead to drugs that block the growth of disease-causing agents, Alexander said.

Press Contacts:

Eric Frazier
(336) 758-5237


Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237


Rebecca Alexander (center), associate professor of chemistry at Wake Forest University, leads a lab exercise during a previous summer workshop on biotechnology held in 2006 for area middle school teachers.
Rebecca Alexander (center), associate professor of chemistry at Wake Forest University, leads a lab exercise during a previous summer workshop on biotechnology held in 2006 for area middle school teachers.
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