HudsonAlpha summer camps inspire middle schoolers to “Science!”

HudsonAlpha summer campers (from left) Anna Bolton, Ben Upchurch, Rani Ginn and Tiffany McGinnis perform an experiment during Code of Life camp.

School may have been out, but biotechnology summer camps at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology kept science fun and learning in session for middle schoolers from across the country. In June and July, Educational Outreach provided four weeks weeks of half-day camps for rising 6th through 9th grade students. The Institute offered three camp options: Code of Life, UDSO Challenge and I Want to Work in a Lab Coat.

Ben Upchurch traveled from Burlingame, Calif., to attend camp, and he said it was worth the trip. “This camp will be a big part in my dream of becoming a biologist,” he said. “I’ve wanted to be a biologist ever since I visited the Biosphere 2 [in Oracle, Az.], and what I learned this week will help me see my dream become reality.”

The Code of Life camp that Ben attended focuses on DNA. Young scientists begin the week by extracting DNA from a variety of organisms and end the week with a little genetic engineering. Campers learn how the information coded in DNA controls physical traits and investigate how changes in DNA may cause the symptoms of some genetic disorders. Students tour the HudsonAlpha facilities and meet with HudsonAlpha staff. The Code of Life participants also investigate the many roles of enzymes in living systems. Throughout the camp, students use the equipment found in most science research labs and gain hands-on experience in micro pipetting and centrifuging. The culminating experiment has campers creating glow-in-the-dark bacteria.

Ben’s fellow Code of Life campers said they learned something new about DNA during the week. “I knew I had DNA in my body, but I didn’t know I have bacteria in my body, too, besides DNA,” said Alex Cazier, who is from Huntsville, Ala. She concluded, “This camp made me want to be a scientist!”

Dylan Stewart of Madison, Ala., said the week of camp inspired him. “Before this week, I didn’t like to do medical stuff, but I like to do technology stuff,” he said. “So those two came together this week. I learned I can help save people’s lives without actually opening them up. I really liked camp a lot.”

Students like Ben, Alex and Dylan who complete the Code of Life Camp are eligible for the two advanced biotechnology camps: UDSO Challenge and I Want to Work in a Lab Coat.

During UDSO Challenge, budding scientists work together to learn and apply basic molecular biology techniques to design a bioindicator to detect pollution in the river of a peaceful fictitious land. Students build on the experience acquired in the previous camp using biotechnology tools and equipment to take their explorations to the next level. Students enter the world of UDSO, using a notebook left behind by a previous researcher to diagnose a waterborne illness. Students are tasked with using biotechnology tools to build a system that can let local townspeople know when their water is safe to drink.

In the I Want to Work in a Lab Coat camp, students spend a week investigating the tools, techniques and science behind modern biotech careers. Promising scientists tour high tech lab spaces and get a behind-the-scenes look at one of Alabama’s fastest growing career fields. The young researchers perform student-driven experiments and maintain a lab notebook of their discoveries.

Camp registration for Summer 2017 will open in February. Visit our website for more information.

Now that California summer camper Ben has had his first experience at HudsonAlpha, he said he wants to attend a HudsonAlpha camp again.

“I would come back because this is a wonderful place,” he said. When asked what the best thing he saw going on at HudsonAlpha was, he responded, with a giant fist pump, “Science!”