Azure 300 Introduces Young Scientists at St. Paul’s to Western Blotting

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Customer Spotlight: Sarah Boylan, Director of The Applied Science & Engineering Program at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire

At St. Paul’s School, a boarding school burrowed in New Hampshire, a robust and life-changing STEM program for students called The Applied Science & Engineering Program (ASEP) provides students with an opportunity to engage in real scientific research. The program’s director, Sarah Boylan, M.S., wants to ensure students have the skills needed to facilitate quality research, which means they need access to the best equipment and resources, including the Azure 300 Imager.   

The need for additional resources

When Boylan became Director of ASEP, she inherited lab equipment with the capability to do cell culture and other basic assays, like PCR. From her own experiences doing research at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Boylan wanted to expand the resources of the lab to broaden the research capabilities for the students. Since then, her purchases have expanded the applications ASEP students are able to run. Her initial purchases included a Nanodrop, microplate reader, and eventually, a qPCR machine. The students were able to visualize basic DNA gels, but their previous instruments were not able to image Western blots.

Chemiluminescent Western blot imaged on Azure 300 by ASEP students at St. Paul's School
Representative results generated by a student in the ASEP program using the Azure 300 Imager. Western blot reflects TcpA and Hcp Expression of V. cholerae samples grown in AKI and LB at 2hr, 4hr, and 6hr time points.

A great match with the Azure 300

Because some of the research projects included gene expression analysis, Boylan realized her students needed to have data from both qPCR and Western blots to ensure accuracy. After careful consideration, she eventually chose the Azure 300 Imager. Boylan saw the Azure 300 as the best choice for Western blot imaging at ASEP due to its affordability and ease of use. The added functionality to upgrade later on as their research capabilities expand was taken into consideration during the decision making process as well. It was clear that the Azure 300 Imager was the ideal option for ASEP.

Since acquiring the Azure 300 Imager early last year, the ASEP students have already begun implementing Western blots into their research projects. One student is examining siRNA and will use Westerns to determine the most effective concentration of siRNA to knock down a gene for cancer immunotherapy drugs. Another student is working with a cholera lab and will be using Westerns to look at two proteins involved in cholera pathogenesis.

Paving a research path at St. Paul's

These young scientists recognize that troubleshooting is an incredibly important piece of the scientific process. When gels run incorrectly or their Western blots are blank, they must learn how to identify and rectify the issues. Boylan encourages collaboration amongst the students. If one student is learning a new application, such as Western blotting or qPCR, their peers will often observe in preparation for future experiments. 

ASEP gives students the opportunity to be independent learners and thinkers, while requiring them to take full responsibility for their learning. Boylan notes that while many people may think high school students aren’t adept enough to perform some applications, she’s seen first-hand just how capable her students can be with the right resources. Some students even opt to come in during free blocks to study new material. Boylan’s goal is to ensure her students get a feel for what real research is like, including the highs and lows that come with it. Scientific research is not easy, and ASEP is designed to prepare them for that reality. Students are taught that failure is part of the process. Perseverance, commitment, and dedication will serve them in life and in their careers. 

ASEP & student life

Students begin preparing for ASEP during their junior year by securing a summer research externship at a university or company in a field of interest of their choice. After they have secured a position, they may apply to ASEP. The program is very selective and only accepts about 12 students each year. During the program, students spend the spring term of their junior year preparing for their upcoming externship.  

In the fall, students return to St. Paul’s School, where they continue their research on campus and work towards a senior capstone proposal. Some students will do an extension of their summer research and choose to work with the externship lab in an ongoing collaboration. Under Boylaa’s guidance, the young researchers determine what skills they need to ensure the best chances of success. Boylan essentially acts as a Principal Investigator overseeing twelve different research projects 

The future of science

Moving forward, Boylan hopes ASEP continues to prepare the next generation of scientists by instilling in them a love of science as well as providing a life-changing opportunity to experience real-life research. She hopes to show students and other scientists that there are more options for researchers than the rigors of academia.

Ready to expand your research horizons? Check out the capabilities of the Azure 300 Imager and discover how it can enhance your research by clicking here.

To learn more about the Applied Science and Engineering Program (ASEP) at St. Paul’s Boarding School and their research, go to https://asep.sps.edu/.

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