UC Davis biomedical engineering professor Marc Facciotti spent six weeks this summer working with high school teachers Ann Moriarty (Davis Senior High School) and Mylee Lam (Dixon High School) to provide continuing education in new biology and to begin creating corresponding lesson plans that focus on genomics and systems biology.  This satisfied the “broader impact” requirement of a National Science Foundation research grant, but to Prof. Facciotti, it meant a lot more. Ann Moriarty teaches biology in the very same DHS classroom in which he had studied physics when he attended Davis Senior High. The Davis Enterprise recently reported on Prof. Facciotti’s work with Ms. Moriarty.

Prof. Facciotti, who also attended Birch Lane Elementary and Holmes Jr. High, went on to graduate from UC Davis. He got a Ph.D. in biophysics from UC Berkeley and after a postdoc with Lee Hood at Institute for Systems Biology, returned to join the Biomedical Engineering department. Earlier this year, he received the 2010 Cal Aggie Association Young Alumnus Award and the ASUCD Excellence in Education Award from students.

Now Prof. Facciotti is happy to bring his skills back into the schools that first shaped his love of science. Ann Moriarty, AP biology and ROP biotechnology teacher at DHS, worked in his lab to develop a lab project on “extreme halophiles”—microscopic organisms that thrive in water that is ten times more saline than sea water— to use in her classes. Mylee Lam at Dixon High also participated. A student from Ms. Moriarty’s biotechnology course, Brooke Darrah, and Imren Mashiana, a student from Natomas Pacific Pathways Prep, helped.

“It’s really amazing what Ann’s able to get done with the modest resources she has available to her,” says Prof. Facciotti.  Ms. Moriarty’s lab seems relatively well-equipped compared to Imren’s chemistry class, in which students weighed rubber bands instead of doing real experiments, and did everything else on the computer instead of in a real science lab. The budget crisis has taken its toll. “Differential resources mean some schools, like Davis, are a little better off than others, but even in these good cases it’s pretty limited. Working within these constraints can be challenging for teachers.”

One unexpected, but very satisfying, outcome of this UC/community interaction has been the development of communication between teachers from different school districts.  For instance, through their collaboration, Ms. Moriarty worked with Ms. Lam to adapt classroom-ready protocols that work in Davis so that they could also work in Ms. Lam’s classroom.

“I really liked helping teachers from neighboring districts come together to not only learn new biology but also to exchange hands-on knowledge of real classroom experiences, techniques, and so forth.  In this case, the UC is serving as an intellectual meeting spot for the community,” Prof. Facciotti enthuses. He is looking forward to visiting Ms. Moriarty and Lam’s classes, when the students run the experiments the teachers have developed over the summer.