Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Making Cheese... Maybe.

This week, I took my first stab at making real cheese.   But... it didn't go too great.  I broke out a gallon of milk, added the acid and set to heating it up.  Like with my rennet making experience, the heating took way longer than I anticipated, so I was getting a bit panicky by the time it reached the mandatory 88oF.  Once there, I started the real test, adding the rennet.  I measured out a few tablespoons of the mixture, stirred it in for the required time, then covered it and furiously hoped for ten minutes that when I opened the pot, I would see any kind of separation.  Unfortunately, when I whipped off the lid, it looked exactly the same as when I covered it.  I repeated the process several more times, each time adding a little more rennet, until I was pouring in half cups, and the milk itself was turning a weird brownish color.   No matter how much I added, nothing was happening.  The only conclusion I could come to was that something was up with the rennet.  That was the key thing for the coagulation to occur, and based on my less than precise rennet making process, it seemed likely that it did not work properly.  The most likely cause of this, in my opinion, is the fact that the nettle leaves that we used had been processed and made into an herbal supplement, instead of being the hand picked leaves that the recipe called for.  Going from here, I would like to order the fresh leaves, and try my hand again at making rennet.  Unfortunately, there is not a huge amount of time left in this year, so I am just ordering rennet premade.  Hopefully, this will ensure the success of my second attempt at making cheese.

Raunchy Rennet (a little late, oops)

This biggest thing that happened this week on my journey through cheese making was making the rennet.  We finally were able to get a hold of nettle leaves, so I was a go on the rennet process.  Reading through the procedure made making rennet seem like a breeze, but it turned out to be a bit more complicated when actually in practice.  For one thing, the amount of dried nettle that we got, one pound as the recipe states, was way too much for the amount of water they suggested using, and too much for the pot I brought.  Because of this, the amount of water and nettle I used was in a much different ratio than the recipe stated.  Nonetheless I pushed on, and went to boil the mushy goop.  Boiling a goop is harder than it sounds, because the water is not distinctly separated from the solids in it.  This caused a bit of fear when the mixture appeared to be alive and breathing as bubbles moved the leaves up and down.  After a really long time, I decided it was boiling, added the salt and drained it, releasing a very strong hay smell, and revealing a very very dark liquid that was basically super steeped herbal tea.  Next week I will begin the real test of this process, the making of the actual cheese! Stay tuned for how that turns out!!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Getting It Going With Genius Hour

This week we began to explore our ideas for Genius Hour.  On Wednesday, my first class day of the week, I was very convinced that I wanted to somehow genetically engineer something.  I really like genetics, it is definitely my favorite unit, but as I was researching the different materials I would need, and the amount of work that would need to go into it, I started doubting whether or not I would actually be able to do the type of thing I wanted to.  Once I had this realization, I very drastically shifted focus.  I knew I wanted to explore, not so much an experiment, as making something.  I started researching bacterial byproducts, to see if there was anything I could make using bacteria because that would involve life.  Somehow on this escapade through google I landed on cheese.  As I was researching how cheese is made, and how I could directly tie it into life, I started looking into the ingredient rennet in cheese.  Rennet is an essential part of the cheese-making process that contains an enzyme responsible for the coagulation of the milk into curds.  While it is most often obtained from the stomach of lambs, I found several methods to get it from different plants, something that is very doable, and also ties perfectly into life and the study of biology.  So this has become my plan.  Right now, I am working on obtaining the nettle leaves that I will be using to make rennet, as well as figuring out what type of milk I will be using to make the cheese later on.  Overall, I am actually glad that the genetic thing didn't work out, because I am so stoked to make cheese!!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Transpiration Fascination: Weekly Reflection for the Week of April 24th through April 28th

How did you do on the work?
The work we did this week was primarily our transpiration lab.  For this lab, I was working with Lizzy, Kaitlyn, and Dennis, and I feel like we did pretty well on our lab.  We had a little trouble coming up with an initial idea, but once we got that it was pretty smooth sailing.  Nobody got acid burns and we collected usable data, so all in all a success in my book!  So far our analysis of the lab is going well and we are coming up with solid theories as to why our data appeared the way it did.

What do you think you understand well?
I felt pretty solid on the topics we covered in the ecology videos we watched and discoed this week.  A lot of it was some of the basics that I had already learned in other science classes, so I felt strongly about that, however the technical terms and ideas it introduced into those ideas definitely will help me on the upcoming AP exam.

Where do you think you could improve?
One thing that I didn't do this week as much as I meant to was study for the AP exam.  As it is only like, eight days away, I need to start my serious studying, but last week, I didn't do much other than start looking over some old notes.

What strategies will you use to improve?
In order to more efficiently and effectively study, I am going to use some online resources I have found like flash cards and prep tests so that I am not just reading and re-reading my notes.  I am also planning on re watching some of the vodcasts on material I am not as strong on, as well as watching some crash course videos.

How does what we are doing fit into the context/narrative of this class?
This week, the transpiration lab especially is working to connect the molecular level biology to the organism level biology.  Last week, we looked at the plant stem under the microscope, and were able to see the cells that make up the xylem.  We could then experience these cells in action through our lab regarding transpiration, a connection that you rarely get to physically see.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

SHOT THROUGH THE HEART: Weekly Reflection for the Week of April 10th through April 14th

How did you do on the work?
This week was HEART WEEK which was awesome!  Basically all of our work was centered around our big heart dissection lab and our summative assessment. I felt pretty solid on the heart stuff we did, and while I was pretty weirded out at first with the whole "real heart" thing, I definitely got more confidant and comfortable over the course of our two days actually examining the heart, and by the end of the second day I could stick my finger through the different veins and arteries without gagging!

What do you think you understand well?
After actually dissecting the heart, I feel like I really understand the structure of the heart and what all of the different components do.  Especially adding onto the fact that the week before I was in a group researching the circulatory system, I am feeling much more confident on at least one of the broader biological systems in the body.

Where do you think you could improve?
While I feel like the lab went really well, I definitely slacked a little bit on my studying for the exam.  Because this is a unit I feel pretty confident about, I didn't take studying as seriously as I probably should have, doing more of a going-over-the-notes kind of deal than actually in-depth studying.

What strategies will you use to improve?
In order to improve I just need to be more aware of time management and keeping myself focused on what I need to be doing.  I also just need to remember that studying is always necessary and really can never hurt.

How does what we are doing fit into the context/narrative of this class?
This week, and the heart lab was a really cool way to connect the microscopic things we have been learning about to the actual function of an organism on a large scale, as well as how these thing affect us.  It was also a foray into dissection, something that we haven't done in this class before, or for many of us, at all, and that, for those looking at bio as an avenue through which to pursue a career as a doctor or something it is preparation for that.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sticklebacks, Feedback, and Circulation; Oh My!: Weekly Reflection for the Week of April 3rd to April 7th

Weekly Standards: 5.1, 5.2

How did you do on the work?
I feel like I did alright on some of the work this week.  I feel pretty good on our in class work, especially the information sheet on circulation that we worked on on Wednesday and Thursday.  We also did some work on stickleback fish earlier in the week to compliment our Vodcast on genomics, and I feel like these packets have been going well.  The work outside of class hasn't been going as hot, simply because my schedule has turned up about 55 notches and I am struggling to adjust.  Because of this, my vodcasts haven't been going as well, as I often have to rush through them.  At the beginning of this week I was behind a few, but luckily I was able to catch up on Monday afternoon.

What do you think you understand well?
I feel really good about the information we researched on circulation.  I spearheaded the section on plants, and not only fount it to be super cool (like that's where rings come from, who knew?), but then when I was doing the vodcast this weekend, I came upon mentions of xylem and phloem and felt super smart and ahead of the game!!

Where do you think you could improve?
Right now my biggest obstacle is time management.  Any sketchiness I feel regarding the material we have covered is due to rushing through work to get it done.  I need to work on not just getting to my work and getting it done in a good amount of time, but taking enough time on it that I am not rushing and missing important material.  This balance is something that I am working to find, especially with the more time consuming assignments, like vodcasts.

What strategies will you use to improve?
In order to more effectively manage my time I need to prioritize my work, and take any and all opportunities to get it done.  I should start utilizing times like my lunch break, or off periods during my rehearsals to get work done, so I will have enough time to sit down and soak in the material, instead of simply flipping through it.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of this class?
One thing that I am really enjoying about this unit so far is that it is connecting two distinct worlds of biology that I have been familiar with.  You always hear about bio as the study of life, with work on animals and how things grow, yet I feel like in high school biology the time constraint of one year limits class to mostly just cell biology, and looking at the basic processes of life, like photosynthesis or cell respiration.  Looking at how these things come together to form an organism is a super interesting connection between all of the microscopic things we have been studying for a year and a half, to the real life things we know from living in the world.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Contemplating Cancer: A 3-2-1 Analysis of the Cancer Patient Data Activity

Three Things You Learned from the Activity
  1. Different genes can cause the same cancer.  On the patients we looked at today, there was not a single gene that each person in my group all had in common.  Each of us had different genes, and yet the mutations all led to the same type of cancer.
  2. Cancer takes more than one mutation.  All of the patient cards we had had at least two genes that contributed to the cancer, some had four or even six different genes that played into it.  Even within the groups the numbers varied, yet nobody had one gene that by itself caused cancer.
  3. Certain chromosomes have more potential cancerous genes than others.  Chromosomes such as 12, 17, and 7 all contain many genes that are known to cause cancer when mutated.  This could be seen in the prevalence of mutated genes on these chromosomes between all of the groups, even those with different cancers.
Two Things That Surprised or Interested You
  1. One thing that surprised me was from the research I looked into on a gene associated with a specific type of Hepatic cancer.  The gene was a hybrid of two other genes and it was found in 100% of the cases of this cancer that they looked into.  This is wild, especially since the activity we did was stressing how different genes can cause the same cancer.
  2. Another thing that interested me was the way the different genes worked together.  Through the function column on the patient cards we got, I noticed that most (if not all) of the cards had genes with multiple functions.  At first I was confused by the lack of correlation, but then I realized that naturally, the multiple genes affecting different functions of the cell would make it much more debilitated.
One Question You Still Have
  1. After this activity, I am still a bit confused on the logistics of how these cells become mutated.  Obviously it is not something normal in your genome, otherwise all of our cells would be cancerous, and that just would not work.  This means that something mutates the genes in this cell, which seems like an epigenetic/environmental factor; however, we always talk about cancer as something that is heritable.  These things seem a little contradictory to me and I was wondering how they fit together.