Murder, mayhem and microbiology

By Kayla Greiner

Members of Iowa State University’s Microbiology Club expose high school students to murder, mayhem and most importantly, microbiology.

The annual Microbiology High School Workshop Day attracted 64 high school students from across Iowa to come to campus last semester from places like Fort Dodge, Cedar Rapids and West Fork.

The high school students participated in many activities relating to microbiology:

  • Conducting bacterial staining/diagnostics by looking at bacteria, an antibody test to solve a fictitious murder mystery.
  • Isolating DNA from their own cheek cells.
  • Running an electrophoresis gel to compare DNA from the fictitious victim and blood on the suspects’ clothing.
  • Learning about PCR (polymerase chain reaction), the amplification of a small amount of DNA into a larger amount so it can be studied.
  • Listening to ISU faculty members talking about the importance of microbiology in real life.
Microbiology senior Nathan Huebner, left, instructs high school students in how to use a pipette.

The workshop exposes the students to lab activities that might be unavailable in their high schools.

The Microbiology Club members help educate them about the field of microbiology and gain the satisfaction of reaching out to high school students who are eager to learn more. Club members were leaders of workshop groups, helpers at stations and part of the student panel where they discussed their future plans which included graduate, medical and veterinary school.

“My goal is for them (the high school students) is to develop hands-on skills of working with tiny amounts of biological materials and with modern lab equipment. Few students have thought about how you go about measuring a microliter,” says Joan Cunnick, Microbiology Club adviser, a professor of animal science and an activity leader at the workshop. “My goals for the undergraduate students are for them to become mentors and realize how much they have learned and how satisfying it is to share the excitement of microbiology.”

She says the microbiology workshop is one way the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences provides science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to high school students. 

“Microbiology is a key element in many fields. The skills that microbiologists use can be applied to biology, forensics, biochemistry and other areas,” Cunnick says.

“A STEM education is important because it can help explain how the world works and how scientific areas can save lives, increase crop yields and improve the world,” says Jennifer Kirk, a senior in microbiology and co-chair of the microbiology high school day workshop.