STEM School Chattanooga's high-tech microscope featured in a national publication
Posted on 02/24/2020
Photo:  Ashlynn Verstrat, a senior at STEM School Chattanooga, views images under the 4K microscope using the large screen.A 4K microscope generally limited to high-level research universities or the Center for Disease Control in the past is opening new opportunities for students at STEM School Chattanooga and has put the school in the national spotlight. The 74, a national non-profit, non-partisan news site covering education in America, carried a feature article about how schools and students are using 4K microscopes to prepare for the future and included students and programs at STEM School Chattanooga. STEM School is a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics magnet school in the Missionary Ridge Learning Community in Hamilton County Schools. Thanks to the new technology and the community’s commitment to fiber optics and high-speed internet, science work at the school that would have been out of a textbook in the past is now available to students through one of the most advanced microscopes in the country.

The program began in 2014 with remote access at STEM School Chattanooga to a 4K microscope at the University of Southern California. At that time, students in Chattanooga biology classes were just able to see what professors at USC were doing and talk to them about the slides they were viewing. The collaboration through US Ignite, USC, and STEM School moved a step ahead the next year to allow students to send slides to USC and remotely manipulate the scope. STEM School students were then able to send their own slides and use the microscope 2,100 miles away to conduct local research.

In 2017, funding from US Ignite and Mozilla, maker of the Firefox web browser, allowed STEM School Chattanooga to get its own Olympus 4K microscope for the biology program. STEM and its students were then able to work with other schools in Hamilton County Schools using Chattanooga’s high-connectivity network to involve students from other schools in the same type of experience that STEM School students enjoyed with USC. Students at STEM School became the instructional leaders for students at other schools, just like USC professors had when the initial work began with the microscope.

Shannon Seigle, a biology teacher at STEM School Chattanooga, was part of the program from the beginning and is now working with seven senior student lab assistants who have taken ownership of the program to grow opportunities for students at STEM School Chattanooga, and other students in schools in Hamilton County. During her class, Seigle uses the 4K microscope to help students investigate the micro-impacts of organisms on local issues. In Seigle’s class, students collect data on their experiments over time and use the microscope to learn how to understand better microbial populations. The student lab assistants learn how to present, research, work together in a group, and promote the program. The lab assistant group has even planned and delivered professional development for teachers using the microscope.

Ashlynn Verstrat, a senior, has enjoyed the experience of working with the senior lab assistants team. “To work with the whole 4K team was very eye-opening for me as we shared our strengths and worked together to grow in areas that may not have been considered strengths,” Verstrat said. “I have been interested in science for a long time, and this program has encouraged me to move forward in a science career after graduation.” Verstrat plans to attend Chattanooga State and study pre-occupational therapy after graduating from STEM School Chattanooga.

Jarren Carr, a senior and also a 4K lab assistant, is one of the first students on the scene when there is something to be done with the microscope. “This has been great for me personally, and I realize that I am gaining skills that few have as a high school senior,” said Carr. He plans to pursue a degree and career in mechanical engineering.

An added benefit of the 4K microscope has been the growth of the interpersonal skills of the lab assistant group. The microscope draws visitors that allow the students to interact with groups, lead tours, plan lessons for students, and training for teachers. The students have learned how to work in a group, interact with peers and adults, budget time, and conserve personal energy.

“This experience is bringing out the best in the students selected for the lab assistant positions because they are gaining experience that will assist them in getting into a college after graduation, and their academic and personal growth has been exceptional,” said Seigle.

Photo: Ashlynn Verstrat, a senior at STEM School Chattanooga, views images under the 4K microscope using the large screen.