BROCKTON — Samantha Thevenin spent a portion of the last 10 weeks hunched over a black lab bench in the basement of Brockton High School. Her goal was to clone a sample of luciferase, the enzyme in the tails of fireflies that allows them to glow.
Thevenin, a senior at the school, and her lab partner Jaquan Chin met in the lab after school three days a week, totaling 65 hours of lab work by the end of the 10 weeks. The pair worked alongside nine other students as part of the Massachusetts Life Science Center biotechnology lab training program.
All 11 students competed the program, receiving official diplomas at the program’s graduation ceremony Wednesday evening. The 10-week program prepares selected Brockton High School students to work in industry-standard microbiology and biochemistry labs. Each student works on a full life science experiment using similar equipment to what’s used in a college or industry laboratory.
“The goal is to prepare them so they are able to work in a commercial or academic life science lab,” said David Mangus, the head of the school’s life science department. “They get real world experience that sets them up for the future.”
These 11 students make up the fifth cohort of the program, which is fully funded by the MLSC. Now, a total of 99 students have completed the program since it began in 2018, the majority of whom go on to work in a paid summer internship in life science labs at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the Forsyth Institute, the Ragon Institute and Massasoit community college.
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“You are the next generation of scientists who will cure the next pandemic,” said Kenneth Turner, CEO and president of MLSC. “The future is right here in Brockton, right here in you.”
This year, each experiment centered around luciferase, an enzyme used in COVID-19 research. Kayden Barros replicated the enzyme in E. coli to further discover how it expresses itself. Raiyad Hassan created artificial luciferase, which shined up to 20% as bright as the enzyme does naturally.
“We got to learn about all the processes we would do in a bio lab,” said Russel Monteiro, who studied how to genetically engineer the enzymes with his lab partner Sol Hassan.
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The students practiced valuable lab techniques that they wouldn’t normally experience until the college level like micro pipetting, gene engineering and performing PCR on DNA, and doing it all in their own school’s lab.
MLSC has invested a total of $206,532 in the Brockton High School program, providing the lab equipment, supplies and funding for the students. Just this year, MLSC gave $40,000 for Brockton’s program. The organization also funds similar programs in New Bedford and Cambridge.
“This experience was monumental to me,” Thevenin said. “As a senior, this is something I can take to college with me.”
Thevenin will spend the summer in a neuro-oncology lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“I want to inspire others who want to join STEM,” she said. “I’m trying to be a role model for young girls.”
The students presented the findings of their research on family, school administration and members of the MLSC inside the lobby of the school’s fine arts building Wednesday evening. Students ranging from sophomores to seniors can apply to the program, where they work as a group to develop each experiment.