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Highland Rambler

Highland Rambler

Biotechnology: The Science You Can Experience

Biotechnology’s Hands-On Approach Makes Science Fun
Lien Hoa Torres
Students in Biotech look up from an experiment.

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. And for juniors and seniors at Highland who wish to do less classwork and more lab work, Biotechnology is that ship unfurling its sails on the horizon. 

Biotechnology is a hands-on class designed around labs rather than lectures. This way, Doug Jorgensen, the Biotech teacher, can spark both a love of biotechnology and a better understanding of our world while making it fun for his students. 

Have you seen the glow fish in the pet stores? You know, they illuminate. Well, we’re gonna try to do that with zebrafish. And what you do is you get the [zebrafish] eggs and then you can insert a chain into the egg, so that’ll make the fish glow,” Jorgensen said. “So, we’re gonna try that and do some of our own genetic transformation there. No harm to the fish whatsoever.” 

Jorgensen emphasizes the hands-on style of the class and the lack of classwork, aside from basic lab reports. By doing this, he creates a fun and relatively relaxing environment where students don’t have to worry about falling behind in homework, rather they can come to Biotechnology and just have fun while learning. 

I mean, we never sit in a classroom; if he lectures, he lectures for maybe 10 minutes and then we go into the lab,” Janie Lambert, a senior at Highland who plans on majoring in biology partly due to the Biotechnology class, said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a day that we’ve spent entirely in the classroom unless we’re writing a lab report.” 

But it’s not just the hands-on approach and lack of work that draws students to the class. Jorgensen himself gives Biotechnology the spark that ignites many students’ curiosity 

“He really teaches you really well, he’s so smart, and I think every teacher is smart, but not every teacher knows how to transfer their smart to other people, like they don’t know how to relay it and Doug does a really good job at that,” Lambert said.  “When we were learning about the heart and all the arteries, he drew just a heart, and it just made it make a little bit more sense in a way. He kind of knows how to connect with teenagers and what we can focus on. I give him a lot of credit for how he teaches.” 

Now, the labs definitely help with Biotechnology’s appeal. Ranging from blood testing to supposed drug identification, they cover a wide range of subjects. 

“We start off the year with simple stuff like fermentation and so with that we make root beer the old-fashioned way with yeast, and we let it go alcoholic. Now we don’t drink it after it’s become alcoholic, but we measure the amount of alcohol in the root beer,” Jorgensen said. “And then we do other labs that use types of indicators. So, for example, you’ve seen the CSI, you know, TV shows where they’re out looking for blood and they spray it and then it glows. We do that. And it’s called luminol.” 

Jorgensen was also able to secure additional funding which enabled him to purchase a real-time PCR machine, the same machine that was used for COVID testing, except the results come in real-time instead of waiting for a week. PCR machines also enable students to make copies of DNA. 

A major focus of the class is DNA technology, so many of the labs involve some type of DNA testing such as hair or blood samples. But Jorgensen structures these labs to be fun for his students while still teaching them biotechnology. 

“We did a [mock] homicide lab; and there actually was a victim. We had to test a bunch of different peoples’ DNA, and when it matched up, that was the person that did it,” Lambert said. 

“Right now, what we’re doing in biotech is we’re drug testing. So, not drug testing people, but testing unknown substances to see what kind of drugs that they are and that’s kind of fun,” Jorgensen said. 

In addition to being an enjoyable class, Biotechnology also prepares students for science classes in college. 

“It really helps with lab-based classes in college. So, if you’re taking a chemistry class or biology class and they require you to have a lab, what Biotechnology will give you is the essentials of how to use a lot of the lab equipment, and so you’ll be comfortable in the lab and how things work,” Jorgensen said. “And that makes a difference as you go into college.” 

Because Salt Lake City attracts so many biotechnology companies, Mayor Mendenhall is pushing for a connection between biotechnology and education.  Her administration wants students to be hired by these big companies right out of high school, and already many of these companies will employ students throughout college and even sometimes help pay for tuition. Clearly, there’s a future in biotechnology right here in Salt Lake. 

“I definitely recommend it…and I definitely think if you want a chill class that you still learn a lot, this is a good one because Doug is so chill, so fun. And also, the entire class is just friends at this point. We all just work together and talk a lot, it’s definitely my most interactive class I have,” Lambert said. “I would definitely recommend it.” 

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