The EdvoReader: Developing a Quantitative PCR and Colorimetry Instrument for Laboratory Skills Training

  • Project Description

    Mastery of quantitative biology skills, through training in mathematics and statistics in high school and undergraduate laboratory courses, is crucial for the successful preparation of students for contemporary STEM careers. To address this need, we propose the continued development of the EdvoReader platform, a quantitative biology framework that combines a user-friendly instrument, a collection of hands-on educational experiments, and a citizen science curriculum to guide students through data collection and analysis. Importantly, experimentation using this platform will introduce students to quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and colorimetry, essential laboratory techniques that have become a cornerstone of disease detection, environmental monitoring, and biotechnology research.

  • Abstract

    The field of quantitative biology involves using mathematics, statistics, and modeling to analyze the results of biological experiments. Students at the high school and undergraduate levels can develop these skills through a comprehensive STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. These analytical skills are crucial for success in many careers, including those in science, and for making informed decisions in daily life. However, despite the importance of this training, and the significant funding provided by the U.S. Department of Education, biological science teachers often struggle to incorporate quantitative analysis into their curricula. This is often due to a lack of resources, equipment, expertise, and time. This proposal aims to address these challenges by creating equipment, experiments, and comprehensive resources that can be used to bring quantitative analysis into teaching laboratories. One barrier to incorporating quantitative analysis in teaching laboratories is that the necessary equipment is designed for research use; it is too expensive, bulky, fragile, and complicated for use in an educational environment. To address this problem, we will continue to develop the EdvoReader, a simple, integrated device designed for students to perform inquiry-based quantitative biology experiments in the lab. In Phase I, we developed a thermal cycler with a precision optical detection system that is capable of both colorimetry and real-time PCR analysis. In Phase II, we will refine the EdvoReader’s optical system and focus on the development of a touch screen interface that creates a faster and easier workflow and directs users through setup, operation, and data analysis. By building this instrument from the ground up, the EdvoReader can incorporate the features most important to educators while minimizing costs. To complement the EdvoReader, we will develop a series of inquiry-based experiments for the educational laboratory. One set of experiments focuses on the basics of environmental monitoring, focusing on water quality testing. A second set of experiments integrates quantitative biology into experiments commonly performed in biology, biochemistry, environmental science, and biotechnology classes. To complement the hands-on experiments, we will create an extensive training library, including how-to videos, interactive simulations, and materials for STEM career exploration. An assessment team has been recruited to evaluate the EdvoReader and associated experiments for its effects on STEM identity and for the development of quantitative skills in high school students. By combining a low cost, user-friendly instrument with dedicated experiments, the EdvoReader platform will provide educators with an inexpensive and accessible pathway to teach quantitative biotechnology. In turn, students will gain valuable hands-on training and an understanding of STEM analysis that will be critical for career development.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    We will create and distribute a comprehensive set of resources to bring quantitative science into teaching classrooms. This includes the development of interactive, print, and video training resources and the implementation of a community science program focusing on the use of quantitative methods to examine water quality in students’ local environments. Work will be evaluated by an external group to assay effectiveness and the development of science identity. The outcomes of our evaluation may be shared as a white paper or in a scholarly journal.

Project Audience

Our initial audience comprises educators in biology and related fields, as the initial experiments will focus on topics most closely aligned with high school and postsecondary biology and environmental science courses. As the platform grows, we anticipate the EdvoReader instrument will expand to be integrated into a variety of STEM courses, including chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and engineering.

Subjects Addressed

This grant allows educators to incorporate quantitative STEM experiments into their biological sciences curriculum. These subjects include biology, biotechnology, forensics, environmental science, or anatomy and physiology.