The scientist’s studio: The role of wet-bench laboratories in bioscience curricula at RIT

Viewpoints
By Michael Savka




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A. Sue Weisler

Michael Savka

As we experience fluctuating economic times and reduce our course offerings by one-third to accommodate the semester calendar, I would like to ask everyone involved not to reduce or minimize the active-learning experiences that take place in laboratories, recitations, studio periods and other types of problem-solving curricular activities of our students.

As a biologist, I cannot emphasize enough the importance and utmost requirement of having curricula augmented with wet-bench laboratory experiences for students majoring in biology, biotechnology, bioinformatics, biomedical sciences, environmental sciences and biochemistry.

Wet-bench laboratories are defined by those activities that use living cells or organisms, chemicals and drugs where tests are conducted and analyzed. These laboratory spaces require water, ventilation and specialized equipment in experiments that demonstrate the functions and lifestyles of biology and apply the bioscience-language learned in the lecture hall.

In the biosciences, wet-bench exercises are the basis of many classification, physiological, molecular, genetic, biochemical and pathological processes that strengthen, emphasize and highlight the mechanisms carried out by living organisms from photosynthetic single-cell algae and sequoia trees to food requiring-animals and humans. It is essentially the language students learn in lectures applied and practiced in a hands-on environment. Through such interactions certain students become passionately interested in a focused area and this may lead to productive faculty-student undergraduate research activities.

For example, the wet-bench laboratory experiences for a bioscience student are analogous to paper, paint and the brush of an art student or the paper and pencil/computer of math or physics students. In these three cases, it would be very detrimental to the student not to have access to these essential tools, and the time and space to explore the lecture-learned language in the studio, in problem solving recitations and in laboratories. The wet-bench laboratory experiences gained in a bioscience program are just the “tip of the iceberg” that empowers graduates to understand, perform and succeed in their careers.

Further training in the biosciences, transcending the language learned in lectures, could be gained by other experiential learning domains such as faculty-student undergraduate research, co-ops and international experiences, and through innovative and creative collaborations. We must provide the tools, the time and the space to bioscience students to enable them to practice their lecture-learned language by providing wet-bench laboratory experiences.

These opportunities advance our students’ knowledge and refine their talent. This, in turn, advances their success and the reputation of RIT as an institution that enables the language of science and cultivates the abilities to do meaningful science.

Michael Savka is an associate professor of biological and medical sciences in the College of Science. “Viewpoints” presents insight and opinions on issues of relevance to RIT or higher education generally. To suggest a topic for a future essay, contact news&events@mail.rit.edu.

201010/slavka.jpg

A. Sue Weisler

Michael Savka