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A biotech student tries his hand at an experiment

A state-of-the-art biotechnology laboratory in a higher secondary school! That’s Birla High School’s way of initiating students to the new subject that Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has added to its curriculum.

The air-conditioned biotech lab at Birla High School (Boys) was set up in July 2004 for Rs 14 lakh. “We wanted to encourage more students to take up the subject that has tremendous career prospects,” says Mukta Nain, principal. Though the response to the dream lab has been tepid so far, Nain is hopeful that interest will grow over the years.

Raghav Bahadur Saxena of Class XII gushes about the lab: “We get to see and do experiments that we had only read about in books.”

A host of apparatuses line the walls, including a glass-top (laminar) air flow chamber that helps sterilise apparatus and also aids in experiments like isolation of DNA from bacteria and E. Coli bacteria culture. Students use the UV spectrophotometer to identify the protein content in a solution while a cyclomixer helps them mix the solution well. A UV transilluminator makes DNAs visible with the help of UV light.

Besides, the lab has incubators that help grow bacteria, a hot air oven to sterilise glassware at 120 degree Celcius, a minus 20 degree refrigerator where plant and animal DNA is stored, a centrifuge machine where substances are separated on the basis of density. Microscopes, Ph meters, weigh balances, micropipettes, the list of equipment is exhaustive.

Thanks to the comprehensive CBSE syllabus students perform complicated experiments – like DNA extraction from human blood, extraction of plasmid DNA from E. coli bacteria, isolating milk protein from milk and lacto bacillus bacteria from curd – at the plus-two level itself. “The CBSE curriculum is very good and many of the experiments they perform now coincide with the work in the graduation and masters courses,” says Krishanu Dasgupta, the bio-tech teacher.

The students are required to maintain a file on all the experiments done and also do a project on any one of the experiments. “They can opt for biotech engineering, biomedical or bioinformatics at the undergraduate level if they take up biotechnology now,” said the teacher. Most students said they were eyeing a career in drugs and pharmaceutical research, food processing and environment-related fields.

There are 17 students studying bio-tech in Class XI and 13 in Class XII. There are eight periods in a week, of which two are devoted to practicals. Two students from last year’s batch are pursuing biotechnology, one at IIT Kharagpur and the other at St Xavier’s College, said the teacher.

Working in the well-equipped lab, Deepro Bonerjee of Class XII sounds clued in: “Biotechnology can help in agriculture too. By changing the DNA sequence of plants, we can help them sustain adverse conditions like drought.”

chit chat

Japanese sojourn

As the only student from Calcutta University to visit Japan for the Jenesys programme, commemorating 50 years of Indo-Japanese friendship, I was both elated and nervous. I was part of a batch of mostly Japanese-speaking students from India.

We reached a rainy Tokyo on June 2 for a 10-day trip. For the next few days I was repeatedly struck by the Japanese sense of punctuality and politeness.Due to the rains our visit to the imperial palace was cancelled. Japanese adore Indian food. Samosas are a hot favourite there and I was amazed at the number of Indian restaurants in Tokyo. Divided into six smaller groups the following day, each bound for a different city. Our team went to Osaka by the famous bullet train, the Shinkansen.

Rain could not dampen our spirits. Every evening, the city would dazzle while musicians played on the streets. We visited the Osaka castle, the museum of history, the Sakai Cutlery Museum and the mausoleum of Emperor Nintoku. At Osaka Prefecture University, we attended a class on Indian mathematics.

Each of us had to spend a day with a host family. My host was Kyoko with whom I visited Universal Studios. We had traditional Japanese lunches comprising tempura, a Japanese dish of vegetables, octopus, squid, salmon and miso soup with rice. It was an experience of a lifetime.

Listening training

It was time to listen for students of Heritage School. Sitting around psychologist Salony Priya in a workshop, the children were taught the importance of listening and how it would enable them to choose the right action and be sensitive to others. The students learnt how important it was to experience the peace within, to be able to listen completely. They were also made to listen to various sounds around them. The children had to relate to everyday classroom situations where one refuses to listen in spite of repeated instructions from the teachers. The session concluded with each child putting a thumbprint on a chart paper as a symbol of his promise to listen in future.

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