“Students can take experiments beyond anything they could ever do normally,” declares Dr. Lynn Horton, Upper School biology and chemistry teacher.
Traditional 3D printers—a WT staple for several years—strictly print plastics; 3D bioprinters print liquid or semi-solid biological materials such as cells, gelatin, and nutrient solutions. AP Biology students have already experimented with enzyme function, printing out enzymes and measuring reactions to varying factors—like different temperatures and chemicals—through resulting color changes. Future experiments will test the function of algae and photosynthesis, and will explore factors that affect bacterial growth.
“The strength of the 3D bioprinter is that it can mimic what we do normally in the lab, but in a more precise and repeatable manner,” Horton explains. “For a student to reproduce an experiment 5-10 times would take too long, yet the 3D bioprinter can produce those results in a matter of minutes. This allows a student to make adjustments to the experiment easily for more in-depth inquiry-based experimentation.”
Not having to set up an experiment also gives students more time to investigate its background and related concepts, to think about ways to change it, and to wonder—and act on—‘what if.’ Moreover, the 3D bioprinter’s speed, repeatability, and reproducibility allow students to apply statistics to an experiment. “Normally, repeating an experiment once or twice is all we have time for, but the 3D bioprinter can be programmed to repeat the experiment multiple times, which amplifies the experiment—and the experience—through the application of statistical analysis. Now it’s absolutely natural for our AP Biology and AP Statistics classes to work hand in hand.”
“Students are getting hands-on experience, and can invent experiments, on these printers which will make it much easier to advance to the next level, whether that’s an internship, or a summer job in a university research lab,” enthuses Horton who, along with Department Chair Graig Marx, is responsible for bringing 3D bioprinters to WT. “Professors are going to look at our students and say, ‘You’ve done what? In high school?’ I am so excited by the possibilities. Our students can dream big!”