Cornell Receives Grant for K-12 'Classroom in a Test Tube'

The Advancing Secondary Science Education with Tetrahymena (ASSET) program at Cornell University has won a five-year, $1.25 million Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The ASSET program, which was established in 2009, "develops science educational materials that use live Tetrahymena, a single-celled protozoan, to address key biology concepts," according to a news release from the university. More than 13,000 students in 29 states have already used Tetrahymena-based science modules, and ASSET will use this new grant "to develop hands-on modules introducing elementary and middle school students to biological concepts ranging from cell structure and function to cellular reproduction to genetics and evolution," to expand its support for high school student research projects using Tetrahymena and to develop science education modules about the relationship between science and society.

ASSET provides the modules at no charge. "We are particularly interested in providing materials for teachers at under-resourced schools serving students traditionally underrepresented in science and science related careers," said Donna Cassidy-Hanley, a senior research associate in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell and ASSET co-principal investigator, in a prepared statement. ASSET's co-principal investigator and grant recipient is Ted Clark, professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the NIH-funded Tetrahymena Stock Center, the national repository for Tetrahymena.

One of ASSET's upcoming Tetrahymena-based science modules will demonstrate the effects of smoke and alcohol on cilia, which are "tiny hairlike organelles found on the surface of many types of cells, including Tetrahymena and cells lining the human lung, where cilia remove dirt and mucus and help to maintain normal lung function," according to the university. Students in biology and health classes will use the module to "investigate the effects of smoke on the ciliary activity of live Tetrahymena, using provided smoke extract that was collected by bubbling cigarette smoke and electronic cigarette vapor through water."

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Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at [email protected].