Students and teachers reflect on the Urban Barcode Project, a science competition run by the DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, that uses DNA barcoding to explore biodiversity in New York City.
The name of our project was Traditional Chinese Medicine: Using Barcode to identify ginkgo products. We’ve done research but it was never this intense. Like, nothing more than the eighth grade exit project was the closest to this.
It was the first time we really got to do kind of our own project. A lot of times in science class in school I guess they give us a kind of experiment we have to follow exactly what they're doing. Here, we had the freedom to choose our own project.
At the Harlem DNA Lab I knew nothing that we were using, I didn’t know what anything was, I didn’t know what I was doing, but after that I was like, “Wow, this is really cool!” I felt like a real scientist. It was awesome. Yeah, for other science fair projects it was something simple like volcanoes or something, but this was serious, we’re doing DNA barcoding!
Well for me the best part was the hands-on experience because before this, even though we had labs for biology and chemistry, labs were very – they’re very boring. There was so, much, little to do. But here, we actually got a lot of hands-on experience. Like, before this I never pipetted anything before so when I got there it was like wow this is great.
What I like a lot about this project is that it puts together like the research in the lab along with field work, so, you have to create this entire story.
I liked just looking at the data and the seeing the questions that it brought up and then I liked looking at the information on the DNA Subway and making the trees in finding the bits of C01 gene on Genebank.
This is my first research project so finding the answers to something that isn’t already in the textbook, something I can’t just Google and find out. Like through this project, I was able to supply an answer that no one else knew and I was able to discover it for the first time.
For me, it was amazing because I didn’t know – when I joined this project, I didn’t know like even a single thing about DNA. But now I know like the basic things like how the DNA works and everything.
Not the basic things, we learned more of depth, because we don’t study them in the books. Like I came here [to the United States] like one year ago and I didn’t know much – I didn’t know anything about DNA. So before studying that subject in my Living Environment class, I had to do this. But when my teacher started to teach me, I know much more than every student in the class. I know everything.
Yeah and that was amazing.
And I wasn’t learning from the books, I was learning from my experience that I did.
I think for me—I'm the teacher – so seeing my students with the kit, the [Foot]locker Kit, was really great because we were able to bring them to the school and a lot of students were peaking to the door, “What were you guys doing? Are you doing some scientific research?” “Yes we are!” We don't do any of this in high school. Not at all, so because the [Harlem] DNA Lab is you know, short two bus stops away, it was very accessible and access to the Footlockers was extremely helpful. All those things kind of built sort of a support or kind of a hook for giving us access.
This is the most excellent like experience I’ve had. I’ve been teaching for 23 years.
It kind of changed my perspective of the world. Like I no longer just see an issue and not ask a question. I always use like the scientific method, like observing what’s happening around, asking a question, forming a hypothesis, and trying to figure out if it’s true or not.
Yeah, it was really definitely a life changing experience for me. Like after working and doing the research I, like Stephanie said, that science was where I wanted to go with my career.
I liked analyzing the information.
You sure did!
DNA, DNA Learning Center, DNALC, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, CSHL, barcode, New York City, gene, genetic, biodiversity, Urban Barcode Project, UBP