Essex Tech Highlights Biotechnology Program in Recognition of STEM Week

Superintendent-Director Heidi Riccio Ed.D. wishes to highlight the work of Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School’s seniors in its biotechnology program in recognition of STEM week.

This week, Oct. 19-23, is the third annual STEM week, a statewide initiative led by the Executive Office of Education, STEM Advisory Council and Massachusetts’ nine regional STEM networks. STEM week seeks to promote access and student interest in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

This year’s STEM week theme is “See Yourself in STEM,” with the goal of encouraging more women, students of color, first-generation students, low-income individuals, English language learners and people with disabilities — groups that are historically underrepresented in STEM industries — to pursue STEM careers. This year’s STEM week is also encouraging mentorship.

At Essex Tech 16 seniors in the biotechnology program are finishing an animal cell culture experiment this week in which they exposed Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells to varying concentrations of Juul e-liquid in the growth media. The students are studying how the liquid, which contains nicotine, affects the growth and viability of the cells.

Biotechnology is the science of using living organisms, their products or their component parts for human benefit, and the use of technical applications that turn biological knowledge into products. Students in the biotechnology program often pursue career paths in biomedical engineering, molecular biology, microbiology, genetic engineering, immunology, as research scientists, in medicine, in bioinformatics, in agricultural food and science, in veterinary and forensic sciences, as laboratory assistants and as associate scientists. To learn more about the program, click here.

“Our students and staff at Essex Tech know the value of STEM, and in recognition of STEM week, we wanted to highlight some of the incredible work our students are doing as part of their studies in the biotechnology program,” Superintendent Heidi Riccio said. “Our students are excited about what they’re learning. They’re engaged, and they’re learning skills that they will be able to apply directly in a career one day. We’re thankful the Baker-Polito administration has been so supportive of STEM, and appreciate the opportunity this week provides to foster an interest in these fields in addition to expanding access.”

In order to conduct the experiment, students learned how to culture the CHO cells and use aseptic techniques so that the cells would not be contaminated. They monitored the cells for two days, at which time they harvested the cells and used a  hemocytometer, a microscopic grid, to count their live and dead cells. The dead cells were also dyed blue. The students were able to determine the number of cells per milliliter they grew across the varying levels of their experimental groups, exposed to varying levels of e-liquid, in comparison to their control group, exposed to no e-liquid, as well as the percent viability or the percent of cells that were alive.

Students are preparing reports with their findings remotely, which they will share with their class in person next week. They began the experiment on Sept. 16. The students have also begun preparing tick samples they will study for the detection of the spirochete that causes Lyme Disease through nested PCR (polymerase chain reaction) in the coming weeks.

“Though the conditions of working with students have changed, we continue to offer interesting projects that foster scientific inquiry through hands-on experience,” said Arlyssa La Porte, a biotechnology teacher at Essex Tech.

Due to COVID-19, Essex Tech is currently pursuing a hybrid learning model where students are separated into grade-level groups, which will allow for approximately 50% of the students to be in the building at any given time on an alternating schedule.

Students are grouped into cohorts for their academic courses, and will resume their career, technical and agricultural education through their shops. They will follow a two week rotating schedule for in-person and remote learning for both academic and vocational classes.