High schooler Laura Cortez kneaded water, salt, soap and banana in a plastic sandwich bag and then filtered the goopy mixture through some cheesecloth into a waiting plastic cup. She carefully withdrew a few millimeters of the now-clear fluid with a pipette and transferred it to a test tube. As she added a few drops of alcohol to the mix, a tangle of white strands began to appear in the liquid.
Researcher Ali Ehsani, right, tells visiting high school students about the effects of diabetes. (Photo by Thomas Brown)
Cortez smiled. She had successfully extracted DNA — the molecule containing nature’s code of life — from the tropical fruit.
Cortez’ experiment was part of Duarte High School’s annual science field trip to City of Hope. The event included demonstrations of sophisticated microscopes, visits to campus laboratories and hospital facilities and some hands-on science. And like Cortez, other students got a chance to extract a bit of plant DNA, which the two dozen mostly juniors and seniors kept as souvenirs and reminders of their day.
The field trip in February was Cortez’s second. The junior is an advanced placement (AP) chemistry student, and was an AP biology student on her first field trip in 2011. But her connection to City of Hope extends back to her childhood.
“I live three blocks from here, and my mom used to bring me here to
visit the beautiful grounds when I was small,” she said. “I would always
see the doctors walking around and I thought it was so cool.” She also has volunteered in the hospital.
Her experience with City of Hope coupled with her interest in science and strong support from her family and teachers motivated her dream: to one day become a physician. “I want to be a specialist in diabetes,” she said.
For Ali Ehsani, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Molecular Diabetes Research and a graduate of City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences, the recent visit marked the fifth time he has hosted Duarte students in the lab.
“The students this year asked impressive questions,” he said. “I was on my toes the whole day.”
He noted educational opportunities and outreach programs to schools can make a difference in how people feel about science and medicine — and their career decisions.
“It’s important to get them involved in science and let them know we need them to join us as researchers,” he said. “I also like letting them know about diabetes and ways they can avoid it and improve their health.”
For Cortez, the field trip made a memorable mark. “My favorite part of the field trips is the hands-on lab work,” she said. “I hope I can come back some day for graduate school.”
To view more images from the event, see below.