The Upper School Science Department recently installed an Aquaneering freshwater organisms’ tank that will be used to allow biology students to breed and study the development of zebrafish.
“This is something I’m really excited about,” said Upper School science teacher Todd Jarry, who has been heavily involved in bringing the tank to the School.
Now installed in the Scott Center for Arts & Sciences, the tank is in the process of being setup with its own ecosystem. When it is ready, students will be able to start experimenting, researching, and monitoring the development of fish eggs.
“The whole idea initially is to do some developmental studies because you can look at the eggs. You can watch a lot of different things happen with the development of the fish,” noted Jarry. “We’d probably be looking at the gross morphological changes, so the basic structures and shapes as they develop.”
Students will track a variety of characteristics of the fish, including what happens to their genes through cross breeding, changes in pigment and tissue, and more.
The zebrafish experiments and tank installation have been a year in the making, primarily begun during last year’s Marine Biology Laboratory Intensive. That Intensive was partly made possible through a partnership with the University of Virginia's (U.Va.) Department of Biology Dr. Sarah Kucenas, who hosted students in her lab to breed zebrafish, inject their embryos, and view them under the microscope.
The goal is to eventually transition the zebrafish studies into part of the overall curriculum, and maybe even a research program here at the School, with a possible partnership with U.Va.
The tank also represents a further shift in the department’s focus on experiential and student-driven learning.
“Ultimately, students will be learning and using contemporary techniques that are used in zebrafish labs. With the skills that they learn, there could be a nice transition into a lab,” Jarry said. “If they’re at that proficient level, they will have a basic skill set that would allow them to be more attractive to a lot of labs. It opens up a lot of possibilities.”
It also opens up the opportunity for more students to get involved and dive more deeply into biology through Independent Studies, Senior Capstone projects, Senior Internships, summer internships, publishing in student research journals, and more.
“If you think about the opportunities a student could have with this system, there are very few high schools that have this. It’s very valuable, and it sets us apart on many levels,” said Jarry. “To get this up and running and have some success with it, we would establish ourselves in the high ranks of schools doing research and science.”
The BioTechnology & Ethics Senior Seminar will be the first to use the tank, doing some experiments that will hopefully pave the way to adding them to the Advanced Biology course curriculum.