By Jennifer Johnson
With gloves on, seven high school students each picked up a cow eyeball, grasped a scissors and started cutting.
"Ew," exclaimed one.
"Ew ... slash cool," their instructor responded.
Several snips later, the eyeballs lay cleanly dissected on the table—the glossy vitreous humors, the small marble-like lens and the thin, slick black irises.
As the students worked in a UND lab Wednesday, visiting instructor Kristi Jean, who works for the Center for Nanoscience Technology Training at the North Dakota State College of Science, explained how retinal implants can improve vision.
"They can currently help cure 50 percent of the world's blindness, as long as the optic nerve functions and the brain functions," she said.
The group has nearly completed a biomedical technology class offered through the Grand Forks Area Career and Technology Center and NDSCS in Wahpeton.
For the first time, the dual-credit class is being offered to high school students. It will be offered again for one semester based on how it best fits with interested schools, she said.
Students didn't squirm too much during the eye dissection, at least not as much as a Herald reporter. This all-female class has their eyes set on medical or science careers, and what they learn now can only help, they said.
Learning by doing
Students have been exposed to a broad range of careers and applications, said Jean.
At heart, it teaches nanoscience—the study of extremely small things that can be applied to everything from electronics to medicine—but with a biomedical focus, she said.
"We just need to make sure the high schools' students are prepared for the math and chemistry," she said.
So far, students have learned how prosthetics can be controlled by the mind, the way targeted cancer treatment works and what DNA looks like after it's been extracted from their cheek cells, they said. Several girls wore the DNA in vials around their neck.
In one activity, students discovered how non-Newtonian fluid can be used for joint replacement. To understand the concept, they found plastic bags filled with water and cornstarch were fluid when squeezed gently, but formed as hard as rock when suddenly struck. When they dropped eggs from great heights onto the bags, the eggs didn't break.
Students do the vast majority of the work online. The goal is to make sure there's "rich learning" and the distance experiments are meaningful," said Jean. Students use an app to record home experiments and create short videos that show their progress.
"This (class) isn't just for females, either," she said. "The workforce just needs more dynamic individuals, men and women."
Students have been skittish when it comes to jobs blending science and manufacturing, often considering them as separate, she said.
"There's interest in medical fields and there's a comfort level in that, but those traditional manufacturing careers are not getting enrollment," she said. "We want to use this biomedical platform to bridge that gap."
For years, NDSCS has been offering nanoscience classes and recently considered a high school-level one. Grand Forks was suggested because of its progressive programs and "willingness to work for what will benefit students," she said.
The class has broadened students' view of potential careers, they said.
Several said they were surprised by the amount of chemistry in the class, expecting a more medical focus. Erryn Egeland, a senior in Thompson, N.D., said the class has expanded her knowledge as she readies to enter a nursing program at UND this fall.
She's taking away a different perspective of how the medical field can be applied beyond hospital settings, she said.
"With prosthetics, you think you go to the doctor and they give it to you," she said. "But actually, some person has to sit down, make that and think if they want to make it electronic, or move, and all of the different things that go into that."
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