For the second time this fall, Dwight students had the opportunity to visit a premier center of scientific research to hear from investigators on the forefront of their fields. The first venue was Rockefeller University here in New York City; the second was further away in Cambridge, MA — the Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Research Center, a leader in immune and gene therapy.
This one-day trip to Pfizer's hub of innovation was designed for students in grades 8-12 interested in medicine, scientific research, and public health. They started out before dawn, departing Dwight at 5 am with their teachers: Anne Metcalf, James Kearsley, Elliot Butler, and Barry Gragg, Head of the Science Department.
The group toured Pfizer's state-of-the-art research facility and learned about the latest technologies such as flow cytometry, genome sequencing using the Illumina dye sequencing technique, and electron microscopy. Students met with scientists to hear about their work and conducted a range of experiments. They topped off the action-packed day by learning how to make ice cream from liquid nitrogen!
Upon returning to campus, students reflected on their experience. Elizabeth Tatishev '21, Carlota Bustos '20, and Kai Kelly '20 co-wrote: "We received a friendly welcome and a quick informative presentation about scientific concepts we needed to understand to complete the labs we would be working on, such as the 'Miracle Berry' and the strawberry DNA extraction labs. We experienced the effects of a Miracle Berry pill, which contains a glycoprotein 'miraculin' that alters the shape of taste buds temporarily, thus allowing sour foods to taste sweet. We later met with a panel of distinguished Pfizer scientists. They explained their academic and career choices, as well as their areas of expertise, ranging from the creation of organoids to studies that slow down the effects of ALS and other degenerative diseases. Meeting them gave us the ability to see what jobs we could possibly have in the future; each person had something different to offer about their experiences, why they chose their area of research, and how they came to Pfizer. Learning about the facilities at Pfizer and modern scientific technologies was highly engaging."
Pepe Valles Fons '20 shared: "I saw different technologies used for optimum resolutions of cell populations and analysis of human T-cell and lymphocyte subsets. The machine used five different lasers (violet, blue, red, green-yellow, UV) to analyze different cell populations. I was able to see connections in the labs with my IB HL Bio and Chem classes. This hands-on experience enabled me to connect what I learn in school to real-life scenarios regarding rare diseases."
Dwight's commitment to providing exceptional learning experiences beyond the classroom like this extends to faculty as well. While students were deeply engrossed in their experiments, Ms. Metcalf and Mr. Gragg met with Dr. Natalie Kuldell, Founder of the BioBuilder Foundation, which designs state-of-the-art biology investigation kits for high school science labs. Mr. Gragg reports that he hopes Dwight will test the kit prototypes when they become available. In addition to discussing her work for BioBuilder, Dr. Kuldell, who teaches biological engineering at MIT provided an overview of her research in the field of synthetic biology — the next wave of DNA manipulation in which organisms will be designed and assembled gene-by-gene. What an amazing prospect! This day of learning was certainly exciting for all!
We want to extend special thanks to Dwight parent Tolga Tanguler (Deran '22) for making this trip possible. Mr. Tanguler is Pfizer's Regional President, North America for the Rare Disease Group.