Beyond the lab: The application of insects in explorations of health and environmental sustainability

This workshop will focus on medical entomology and the role of insects in human health and environmental sustainability. Participants will explore these topic areas by completing three major investigations designed with the high school science classroom in mind. Throughout the session, participants will have ample opportunity to discuss the implementation and scientific content of these lessons with our team of experts. We will also provide suggestions and discussion of how these and other insects can be incorporated into additional activities, thereby providing the ability to maximize the use of module supplies. Participants will be provided with access to full lesson plans and associated worksheets for all investigations discussed. Materials for the investigations are available and affordable through science education supply companies, pet supply shops, electronics providers, and pharmacy or grocery stores. The eight NGSS Science and Engineering Practices are incorporated throughout these investigations.

The Ter-mighty Guts:
BTL1Humans rely on millions of microbes in their intestines to digest food. Similarly, in termites, microbes of the hindgut are responsible for the digestion of cellulose in plant matter. These protists are considered obligatory endosymbionts as the host gut provides the homeostatic environment required for their survival. One aspect of homeostasis is the maintenance of water equilibrium, achieved in part through osmotic mechanisms which can be visualized under a microscope. The objectives of this inquiry-based activity is for grade 9-12 students to: (1) dissect a termite hindgut, (2) observe and record the symbiotic relationship between the BTL2endosymbionts and termites, and (3) investigate the responses of endosymbiotic protists when their osmotic environment is altered. Students create a concentration gradient of saline solutions, record their observations, and formulate conclusions to present and compare with their classmates.

Cricket Physiology:
In this investigation, students visualize insect biopotentials naturally present and elicited via inputs from a mobile device through electrodes and a simple amplifier. Biopotentials, the expression of aggregate ionic potentials or electrical activity at the cellular, tissue or organ level, can be visually captured from electrodes implanted in cricket ganglia using an oscilloscope application. The oscilloscope allows student to measure wavelength, amplitude and frequency of biopotentials in insect ganglion. Insects, in this instance crickets, can be purchased from the pet store, chilled and prepared for experimental testing. The drugs used in this experiment are common over-the-counter medications and substances (e.g., caffeine, ethanol, Raid, and other available chemicals that can be safely used). This investigation allows students to: (1) observe several neuronal circuits and diverse chemical effects on behavioral responses; (2) measure and compare the chemical properties of common pharmacologicals and their effects on neuronal response.


Ecological Survey:
In this activity, participants will explore the possibilities for environmental science research that await in their own communities. This portion of the workshop will provide general background on current mapping technology, helping participants organize location data to visualize local insect diversity. Notably, similar methods of visualizing data are used in active biomedical research involving vector species, which inform scientists studying vector-borne diseases such as malaria or the Zika virus. The provided classroom module, flexible to grades 9-12, will encourage students to ask questions, step outside to collect their own data, and draw conclusions as a class about insect diversity in their communities.
DCI: LS2:A; LS4:D; CCC: Stability and Change.

Emily Kuehn

Dr. Kuehn grew up in the Detroit suburbs and completed a B.A. in Biology at Kalamazoo College in 2010. During those years she developed a strong interest in research, particularly in the fields of cellular/molecular biology and neuroscience. Following a one-year position as a research technician at the University of Montana, she enrolled in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Through this program, she completed research in the lab of Dr. David Ginty, exploring how the sense of touch is processed and organized within the spinal cord, using mice as a model system. She completed her Ph.D. in October 2016. During her time as a graduate student, her interest in science education and outreach grew, and subsequently joined the WRAIR science education team in November 2016 to shift her focus to science education research.

Edgar Rowton

Dr. Rowton worked as a medical entomologist at the WRAIR until retiring in 2013. Since then he has worked with the Army Education Outreach Program helping to develop high school biology laboratory session using insects to illustrate various NGSS practices. As a youth, in the south west, Dr. Rowton delighted in collecting critters from the desert. During his tenure with Entomology at the WRAIR Dr. Rowton worked closely with the WRAIR GEMS program hosting students in his lab where they completed research projects and presented their results at both the WRAIR and their high schools research symposiums. Two of these students won First Place at a International Science Fair.

Asia Liza Morales

Hailing from Los Angeles, Asia completed her undergraduate degree in biology and anthropology at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. There, she discovered her passion for changing the way we teach science and student attitudes towards careers in science. Her interests in STEM are urban ecology and geography, investigating the intersections of the natural environment and the human-built environment. At the WRAIR, Asia works with our education team to bring hands-on STEM modules to Maryland classrooms.

Kim Aguilar

Kim graduated high school from a small town in Maryland and then moved to Norfolk, Virginia where she completed her B.S. in Biology and Chemistry at Old Dominion University. Throughout her undergraduate experience, Kim actively worked in different research labs, varying from fieldwork to wet labs. Last summer, Kim completed a research program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she witnessed the importance of increasing student access to educational opportunities. Since then, she has been working at the WRAIR, where she helps to serve as a bridge connecting students to science and careers in the STEM fields.

Nate Dixon

Nate grew up and graduated high school in Northern VA and then moved down to Richmond, VA where he graduated with a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry at Virginia Commonwealth University. While at VCU, Nate pursued opportunities to work in different research labs where he discovered his interest in research, particularly in genetics.  During his last semester at VCU, Nate served as a teaching assistant for VCU’s Genetics Lab course which is where he realized how much he enjoyed teaching biology to other students. After graduating from VCU, Nate has worked as a bio-technician with Thermo-Fisher Scientific, and is now currently working at the WRAIR to develop and facilitate hands on STEM modules for high school biology classrooms.