At Whitfield, we define Scholarship—one of our six Habits of Mind and Heart—as the pursuit, creation and application of knowledge and understanding. Recognizing that our approach to a college prep education is through character education, our skilled faculty use the Habits as a jumping off point for classwork. Nowhere is the integration of Scholarship more deftly demonstrated than in Biology 9, under the leadership of Stephanie Bonat, one of our new faculty members this year.
In conjunction with their study of cellular hierarchy and tissues, students in Biology 9 recently participated in a bioengineering project in which they designed and produced low-cost synthetic tissues.
To begin, students conducted research to learn about the costs, challenges and potential ethical considerations associated with obtaining and storing real vs. synthetic cadavers. Through this research, they considered real-life circumstances in which the availability of synthetic tissue that effectively mimics that of humans would have a positive impact, such as in remote or impoverished areas with limited access to cadavers, yet medical personnel needing suture training.
“I wanted to incorporate a bioengineering component into my class this year,” said Bonat. “This project gives students the opportunity to address a global issue and use the Design Thinking process to develop, prototype and test their solutions. At Whitfield, we want our students to have the analytical and creative thinking skills to identify a problem and the interest to pursue a solution.”
To create synthetic tissue, students used items that are easy to acquire and are relatively inexpensive: silicone caulk, corn starch, and an additive (e.g. olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable oil and butter).
Their first task was to obtain accurate measurements of the elasticity of real muscle tissue which in this case was a 3” x 3” cube of beef. Students measured the cube’s surface area and height, then compressed the cube using a series of weights. After the compressions, students measured the stress and strain that each weight had on the sample, and graphed the data to determine the Young’s modulus: the stiffness of an elastic tissue defined by the ratio of stress to strength.
Next, students created a sample of synthetic tissue by mixing the caulk and corn starch with one of the oil additives. Once the sample was mixed it was left at room temperature to harden overnight. Using the newly-created synthetic tissues samples, students repeated the same process with the weights comparing the Young’s modulus of their synthetic tissue with that of the real tissue. From their initial findings they adjusted their solution, trying different additives, to create a synthetic tissue that more closely mimicked the elasticity of the authentic tissue of the beef cube.
“When Mrs. Bonat first introduced this project, I couldn’t image how we would go about creating synthetic tissue that would be similar to human tissue,” said Zoe Goffe ’21. “We had just finished talking about cell development, hierarchy and tissue so having this hands-on activity was really cool.”