With hamsters on a
web site, Biological Timing Center turns on high schoolers' interest
of all ages from more than 50 countries have used the web
site on hamsters for research.
Schleeter had never heard of circadian rhythms when her science
teacher first mentioned it last fall, but she knew she was interested
in any field of biology that would challenge her to conduct original
a senior at The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
in Fairfax County, has since learned that circadian rhythms are
the internal biological clocks that make the body tick. For her
senior project -- a major undertaking that is a requirement for
graduation -- she is conducting prolonged experiments using hamsters
to see how pheromones effect the animals' circadian rhythms.
universities and colleges, including U.Va., encourage their
undergraduate students to conduct research. It can be a
real advantage for high school students to get an early
appreciation of how frustrating fundamental research can
be, that things don't work right the first time, and that
accurate answers don't come easy. This helps them approach
research more maturely when they become college students."
Vice President for Research and Public Service
and Director, Center for Biological Timing
year I didn't know anything about biological clocks or about how
to take care of hamsters," Schleeter says. "Now I'm
designing equipment and conducting experiments with hamsters.
I hope to gather enough new data to help us understand a little
more about how pheromones influence the activity cycles in these
got started with guidance from her teacher Paul Cammer, and help
from U.Va.'s Center for
Biological Timing. Public outreach is a big part of the mission
of the National Science Foundation-funded center, which also maintains
an interactive web site to help young students understand science.
Schleeter visited the center last November to see how scientists
here set up experiments using hamsters.
addition to the research we conduct, we also visit schools, and
bring elementary and secondary school students and their teachers
to our labs," says Gene Block, center director and U.Va.'s
vice president for research and public service. "We try to
give students a strong sense of what scientific research is really
Block has visited Thomas Jefferson High School numerous times
to encourage students to conduct original research, and consider
careers in science. He also has loaned lab equipment, including
a polygraph machine and microscopes. His most recent visit was
in January to provide advice to Katie Schleeter and her lab partners
as they designed their experiments.
are smart, engaging students who think creatively and are interested
in understanding how the world works," Block says. "It
is always exciting to spend time with them. I get a lot more out
of this outreach effort than I put in."
Block says it is helpful for bright, college-bound students to
begin conducting research while they still are in high school.
universities and colleges, including U.Va., encourage their undergraduate
students to conduct research," he says. "It can be a
real advantage for high school students to get an early appreciation
of how frustrating fundamental research can be, that things don't
work right the first time, and that accurate answers don't come
easy. This helps them approach research more maturely when they
become college students."
says several of his students are conducting research on circadian
rhythms for their senior projects, much of it inspired by the
help from U.Va.
have students doing reasonably sophisticated investigations on
blind cavefish, goldfish, plants, rats, hamsters and with snail
eyes," Cammer says. "Gene Block's center has been very
helpful to our students with ideas for setting up experiments,
sorting through data and doing more meaningful research. The students
still have to do the work, but the interaction with U.Va. has
helped bring them to an advanced level."
few years ago, Cammer was searching the Internet for interesting
research projects for his students. He discovered a real-time,
online circadian rhythm hamster experiment at U.Va. (http://www.cbt.virginia.
site, the creation of the center's former education outreach coordinator,
Diane Foster-Jones, is an educational tool that uses experiments
to illustrate how changing light and dark conditions in a controlled
environment affect the biological clocks of animals. The site
includes real-time moving images of hamsters running on exercise
wheels in light-controlled cages. University computers, meanwhile,
monitor the activity of the hamsters and stack up reams of data
for students to study online. The information serves as a virtual
experiment for teachers and their students world-wide.
"By using the web, we are able to transfer complex and interesting
real-time experiments directly from our lab to the classroom or
home,² says Jennifer Scott, who is now the education outreach
coordinator and manages the online hamster experiments. "We
invite teachers to incorporate these experiments into their lesson
plans, and to encourage their students to visit the site for extra
anywhere can log onto the web site and see what the hamsters are
doing, as they do it. The students can monitor the activity of
the hamsters, track the data and formulate their own ideas. They
can even contact Scott by phone or e-mail for help in understanding
web site gets 1,500 to 2,000 hits per month," Scott says.
"We've had direct contact with dozens of students from more
than 50 countries, at all grade levels."
who came to U.Va. last year from Mary Washington College, focuses
on expanding the outreach of the center by visiting more schools
around the state. She also conducts student tours of the center
and helps students think creatively and scientifically in using
the web site. She is currently working on updating the hamster
site to make it more user-friendly for students, particularly
at the elementary and middle school levels.
Katie Schleeter is one of Scott's regular contacts.
help from U.Va. has been great," Schleeter says. "I've
learned so much, that I now realize there is so much more to learn."
of the many things Schleeter has learned is that she wants to
major in the life sciences in college wherever she goes, and she
wants to continue to conduct research.