Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech Uses MiniPCR Machines to Connect Engineering & Biology, Engage Students

Dec 09, 2013

GNB Voc-TechThis fall, students at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School (GNB Voc-Tech) have been learning how to complete PCR laboratory experiments. On October 29th, they had the chance to explore the machinery behind the experiments through a visit from Dr. Sebastian Kraves and Dr. Ezequiel Alvarez Saavedra, the inventors of the miniPCR machine.The miniPCR is a thermal cycler that scientists primarily use to make multiple copies of specific DNA segments.

Dr. Kraves and Dr. Alvarez Saavedra visited the school and worked with about 60 senior biotechnology students and two teachers, showing them how to effectively use the equipment and explain the theory behind the PCR laboratory technique.

“As both inventors and scientists, Dr. Kraves and Dr. Alvarez Saavedra were particularly inspiring to our vocational students,” said GNB Voc-Tech Biology/Biotechnology teacher Scott Atkinson. “[The students] were as excited about the design and construction of the miniPCR machines as they were about the science behind the PCR lab they performed. Several other teachers mentioned that my students were discussing the experience with students in other classes throughout the day.”

Biology teacher Pamela Baptiste added, “It was an inspiration to see the two scientists streamline and simplify a complicated piece of equipment for student use.” Baptiste participated in three MassBioEd Foundation teacher trainings in 2013 and saw this as another way to enhance her biotechnology curriculum and inspire students around science education.

The miniPCR workshop was organized by MassBioEd Foundation as part of an effort to engage more students and teachers in cutting-edge laboratory experiments. GNB Voc-Tech was selected for MassBioEd Foundation’s BioTeach program in February 2013, when the Foundation received $250,000 from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center’s Equipment and Supplies for Skills Training and Education Program.

As a new BioTeach school, GNB Voc-Tech received a $16,000 grant from MassBioEd Foundation to use for consumable materials and capital equipment to enhance their school’s lab, new biotechnology lab curriculum, and access to high-level, hands-on teacher training. GNB Voc-Tech purchased their miniPCRs through the BioTeach equipment grant program.

“The money received from the grant has allowed us to offer more labs to bigger classes and it also has allowed students of all levels and abilities to take part,” said Erin Wallace, the Science Department Head at GNB Voc-Tech. “Support from MassBioEd has been critical to our ability to offer biotechnology as an elective and possible career path for 136 students.”

Wallace also explained that the teacher trainings have been a vital component of the program so that teachers can effectively implement these new lab experiments into the curriculum.

Scott Atkinson, Pam Baptiste and Aimee O’Neill, the three teachers active in the BioTeach program from GNB Voc-Tech, attended a number of programs throughout the year including the BioTeach Winter Workshop, the BioTeach & Beyond Workshop and the BioBuilder Workshop. Through these trainings, the teachers were exposed to 11 new labs to bring back to their classrooms.

O’Neill shared that she particularly enjoyed the photosynthesis labs which “provide students with an engaging laboratory experience that will help reinforce difficult to grasp concepts.”  

The miniPCR training was a success not only for GNB Voc-Tech students and teachers, but also for the inventors of the miniPCR as well. “There was a moment [from the workshop] that we won't forget,” said Alvarez Saavedra. “At the end of the class several students came to us to shake our hands and thanked us for a very interesting class.”


Learn more about MassBioEd and the BioTeach program at Learn more about the miniPCR machine at

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