iXplore STEM Summer Program

High School Students Gain Real World STEM Experience and Skills.
Educators Explore New Technology for the Classroom.

iXplore STEM offers high school students and educators an opportunity to conduct scientific research using DNA barcoding; genetically engineer bacteria that glow; study sensory neurons; explore marine biology; use motion capture technology and electromyography (EMG); experience healthcare, dentistry, and pharmacology; and learn about STEM education programs and careers. High school students (having completed one year of high school) and science educators are encouraged to apply.  The program takes place on the University of New England Biddeford and Portland Campuses July 24-28. (See gallery; For more information see student and teacher applications.)

Maine Barcode of Life

marine-barcodeThe Maine Barcode of Life (MBOL) project, launched in 2013, is a joint effort by Maine high schools and colleges to assess the biodiversity, distribution and abundance of Maine’s marine and land-based organisms and to build a genetic library of Maine species – past, present, and future. Program participants contribute to the MBOL project using DNA Barcoding while working in a college biochemistry lab at the University of New England.

DNA barcoding uses biotechnology & bioinformatics to identify and classify any plant or animal specimen or investigate food fraud by extracting DNA from very small samples of living, dead, or processed material. Participants apply molecular biology, ecology, and evolution concepts and develop lab skills using centrifugation, electrophoresis, and polymerase chain reaction.  Students use computational biology and bioinformatics to analyze DNA sequences with tools embedded in the BOLD-Student Data Portal website (BOLD-SDP video.).  Results are submitted, verified, and published in the BOLD-Systems data base, containing genetic data from more than 200,000 plant and animal species from around the globe.


IMG_8715 (Medium)An iXplore student used DNA Barcoding and found fresh water white bass served in a sushi restaurant and not the advertised striped sea bass. Other students have shown tea bags fail to list all of the ingredients. DNA Barcoding is a model for high tech student inquiry, offers a platform for using scientific practices, and may lead to scientific publication and identification of new species of organisms!

Explore barcoding highlights from the 2015 Summer Program.





iXplore413“A ‘DNA barcode’ is a unique pattern of DNA sequence that identifies each living thing.” – Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center.  Learn more at: www.barcodeoflife.org






Marine Biology

portland-press-herald_3158535Participants collect marine specimens for individual DNA barcoding research (see above) using a seine fishing net and explore marine biology teaching and research labs at the University of New England Marine Science Center. Watch this video of students seine fishing at Freddie’s Beach on campus at UNE.






 Learn more: University of New England Marine Science Center

Clinical Simulation Labs

IMG_3627A portion of the summer program occurs on the UNE Portland Campus, where participants engage in a wide variety of activities at the Westbrook College of Health Professions (WCHP), College of Dental Medicine, and College of Pharmacy. Westbrook College of Health Professions’ state-of-the-art human patient simulators allow participants to learn & practice universal healthcare skills by monitoring a patient’s pulse, blood pressure, O2 saturation, EKG, and lung & heart sounds.  Participants apply their new knowledge in a simulated Heroin Overdose Case Study.



IMG_3637Patient simulators at the UNE College of Dental Medicine give participants the opportunity to use actual dental instruments (high-speed drill, suction, etc.), remove decay, restore teeth with synthetic resin, and experience being a dentist. Watch this Maine high school student drill out tooth decay!





IMG_3662Professors from the UNE College of Pharmacy discuss the future of personalized medicine, public health and vaccines, and the changing role of pharmacists in healthcare. Participants in the program  prep “patients” and deliver a “faux” vaccine (see video).





Motion Analysis Lab

GRF_Sagittal w Force butterflyParticipants explore UNE’s Motion Analysis Lab and use “Motion Capture Technology”, which records the movement of patients.  Students apply math and physics concepts to evaluate patient rehabilitation or athletic performance (also used in film and video game animations).  Students use EMG or electromyography to evaluate and record the coordinated electrical activity within their own muscles.





Learn more: UNE Clinical Simulation Lab & Westbrook College of Health Professions at UNE





Engineer NOW

pglo11Genetic Engineering and Chromatography: summer program participants clone a fluorescent jelly fish gene, genetically engineer glowing bacteria, and purify the glowing protein. This process demonstrates the central dogma of biology (genes code for proteins) and the drug discovery process. A college biochemistry lab at UNE provides the setting for bacterial cell culture and transformation, sterile technique, column chromatography, pipetting, and gel electrophoresis.




algaeBioprocess Engineering (2013): summer program participants design and develop a photobioreactor to cultivate micro algae for bio-fuel production. Summer interns apply biology and physics principles and use engineering practices: engineering design process, problem solving, teamwork, and effective communication.

Learn more: BusinessWeek




BestLarva2BrightenedDrosophila Pain Model: Genetically engineered Drosophila larvae (fruit flies) are use to study pain, or nociception, in response to neural stimuli. Students examine the neuromuscular interaction at organism system, tissue, cell, and molecular levels.  Photo credit: Genetically modified Drosophila larvae expressing red fluorescent protein (RFP) in nociceptor (pain) neurons (Taylor Follansbee).




neuroscienceNeurohistology: Students explore neuroscience at the cellular level with histochemistry and immuno-staining of spinal cord tissue for CGRP, a protein induced by pain or injury in neurons. Participants analyze the presence of CGRP using high tech confocal microscopy, producing high resolution 3D images. Understanding the properties of CGRP may be important for treating patients with chronic pain or neural injuries. Photo credit: fibroblast cells showing Collagen (GFP-green) and nuclei (DAPI-blue) (J. Davis-Knowlton).

Learn more: University of New England Neuroscience