By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Westborough – A science teacher for 17 years, Jo-Anne Purdy is in her second year instructing biology and oceanography in 10th and 12th grades at Westborough High School (WHS). Also, she and Dr. Natalie Kuldell occasionally co-teach other high school teachers how to instruct synthetic biology labs in a class offered at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Now, Purdy feels better equipped to educate her WHS science students.
“When I took the position last year here in Westborough, I realized there wasn’t a lot of biotech equipment that was readily available for the biology teachers to use,” she said. “So I asked Natalie if I could borrow some equipment.”
Purdy drove to MIT, loaded her car with the needed biotech equipment and brought it to WHS. She was able to conduct biotech and synthetic biology labs, which were well-received by her students.
This school year, the borrowed equipment has been returned and replaced with new models thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Sciences Center, which Kuldell helped secure. Purdy and Kuldell have worked with the BioBuilder Education Foundation alongside other science teachers, biology professors and engineers nationwide.
According to the foundation’s website, “We put current synthetic biology research into the hands of teachers and students. By converting cutting-edge science and engineering into teachable modules, we foster an engaged community and we increase understanding of these fields.”
A $75,000 grant was shared between WHS and Wellesley High School, Purdy noted.
“The money that comes to us will outfit three biology classrooms with biotech equipment,” she said. “So far, I’ve ordered over $40,000 worth of equipment. I got some really nice equipment that most high schools cannot purchase, like a PCR machine, which is $3,500.”
Purdy believes the new equipment will play an integral part in enhancing her WHS students’ education.
“The next generation’s learning standards require us to put engineering into every major science discipline,” she said. “Biology is a really hard one to put it into because living things are finicky. The BioBuilder synthetic biology labs allow us to incorporate engineering into biology. Cells and life are reprogrammable. We can do that in a high school classroom and students can see it happening. It lights the fire in a lot of students, which we couldn’t do before.”