iXplore STEM Summer Program

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

The iXplore Summer Program offers high school students and educators an opportunity to conduct scientific research using DNA barcoding; genetically engineer bacteria and purify glowing protein; study sensory neurons; explore marine biology; use motion capture technology and electromyography; experience healthcare and pharmacology; and learn about STEM education programs and careers (see photos). High school students (including recent grads) and science educators are encouraged to apply.  The program takes place using facilities on the University of New England (UNE) Biddeford and Portland Campuses. (This program is on hold for the summer of 2020 until further notice).

DNA Barcoding


Program participants contribute to the Maine Barcode of Life (MBOL) project, a joint effort by Maine high schools and colleges to assess the biodiversity and distribution of Maine’s aquatic and land-based organisms and build a genetic library of Maine species. Students and teachers use DNA barcoding, a method using biotechnology & bioinformatics to identify and classify any plant or animal by comparing the DNA sequence of one universal gene. Students collect plant or animal specimens from their local environment or from the Saco River then complete the process while working in a college biochemistry lab at UNE (barcoding highlights and published examples).

Participants learn how to extract DNA from very small specimens, amplify one universal gene, analyze the DNA sequence, and compare it to known species’ sequences using bioinformatics (BOLD-SDP video.). Students apply molecular biology concepts and develop lab skills using centrifugation, electrophoresis, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR).  Barcoding data is submitted by students, verified by scientists, and published by BOLD-Systems, which catalogs and tracks more than 200,000 plant and animal species from around the globe. “A “DNA barcode’ is a unique pattern of DNA sequence that identifies each living thing.” – Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center.

Marine Biology

portland-press-herald_3158535Participants collect marine specimens for individual DNA barcoding projects 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.

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.  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

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

Bioprocess Engineering (2013): summer program participants design and develop a photo-bioreactor 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 used to study pain, or nociception, in response to neural stimuli.  Photo credit: Genetically modified Drosophila larvae expressing red fluorescent protein (RFP) in nociceptor (pain) neurons (Taylor Follansbee).

Neurohistology: Students explore neuroscience at the cellular level using histochemistry and immuno-staining of brain tissue. Participants analyze staining using high tech confocal microscopy, producing high resolution 3D images. Photo credit: Dopamine receptor (red), and nuceli (blue) staining in mouse brain (Peter Caradonna).

Learn more: University of New England Neuroscience