By Emily Gonzalez ’21
Chris Duncan, 11/12 grade Biology teacher, was published on March 4 in a bioRxiv article – the reprint server for Biology – referring to the work he and his students have been doing.
In May of 2016, Pritzker’s former principal, Pablo Sierra had connections with the University of Stanford and introduced Duncan to a collaborative research class with Stanford. The program, Biology 670, has three primary elements that the students are involved in: exploring fly husbandry, developing the ability to work with a microscope, and learning about genetics.
Duncan explained that his role in the program is to show students how to use the equipment, how to keep the flies alive, and how to observe the flies. Duncan added on, “Once [the students] can use the equipment correctly and keep the flies alive, then [they] can start to actually look at the flies.” This is all while he teaches them about DNA, the effects of sexual reproduction, and the differences between the flies – he described how some flies have red or white eyes, and there are certain distinct features between male and female flies.
The students involved in the program were required to fill out an application that was sent out by Duncan. Bianca Rodriguez, a junior currently involved with the program, explained, “[Duncan mainly looks at] GPA and test scores.” There is also a writing portion that students are required to fill out explaining why they are best fit to receive a spot.
The program requires effort and commitment from the students’ part as it is on them to keep their flies alive, which may require them to have to stay after school. The students are also assigned readings that they have to complete along with assignments apart from their regular classes.
By the end of the students’ junior year, Duncan expects them to have been able to grasp everything they were taught and help guide the new students assigned into the program.
Duncan mentioned how he “had no part in the publication” and it was all Stanford’s doing. Duncan explained how work is usually published when it’s interesting and written professionally; editors publish topics that may be intriguing to others and/or catch the eye of other scientists who will decide to take on the role of developing further research.
Although Duncan was the only one on the publishing, students involved with the research were able to find value in the whole encounter. Rodriguez mentioned how she’s “very grateful” to simply be involved in the program because she’s already being exposed to what she would like to pursue in the future. Junior Emily Pereznegron, a current student in the program, explained, “I joined the program because I struggle in Biology, and I knew this class would push me to want to learn more. In addition to that, the best way to learn […] is with hands on work, and I knew this program would have me working with the flies.”
The publication has motivated Rodriguez to “go further” and “succeed in the future.” Because this program goes on her transcript, it’s able to provide help to students like her who seek a profession in the STEM field. Pereznegron went on to mention, “[the publishing] has helped me see how the work we are doing goes beyond the walls of the school. With that, I am more motivated to understand the topics and work harder on the fly work.”
The Stanford program is offered to rising juniors. Once accepted by Duncan, students leave their current elective because Biology 670 becomes their new elective; they will have to participate in this program for their remaining two years at Pritzker. Biology 670 is currently taken by 11 juniors; however, Duncan has decided that the program will only accept about six students next year.