Biological Sciences | Spotlight

Cal State L.A. microscope recycling reveals miniscule realms for local high school students

Photo of Kari Robert.
This is Kari Robert, a teacher at Rancho Dominguez Prep High School. She had no dissecting scopes and is very happy about adopting these.

By enabling Cal State L.A. biology students to learn with the latest technologies, the University is also helping students at budget-strapped local high schools to peer into microscopic realms by passing on 150 refurbished microscopes and other equipment.

The microscopes are being provided to campuses, such as South Pasadena High School, that are currently developing new programs in environmental science but do not have the funds for proper equipment.

Photo of Don Wielenga. Don Wielenga of South Pasadena High School.

“I will be able to do class-wide investigations. We had two [microscopes] already, but now we have enough to do a whole class lab investigation,” said Don Wielenga, a biology and A.P. environmental science teacher who has worked at South Pasadena High School for 29 years. “Recently we looked at small worms and tiny beetles in our vermicomposter. It is one thing to tell students about the small decomposers that help break down our vegetable waste, but another to actually see them and how many of them are decomposing. It brings up many questions about where they come from and how fast they reproduce.”

Other high schools that are receiving equipment and the training to use it are Arcadia, Blair in Pasadena, Temple City, Bell Gardens, John Burroughs in Burbank, Marshall Fundamental in Pasadena, Crescenta Valley in Glendale, Mountain View in El Monte, Rancho Dominguez Preparatory in Long Beach, and Rosemont in Los Angeles. Many of the students from these schools eventually attend Cal State L.A.

CSULA delivered two types of microscopes: stereo microscopes (dissecting scopes) used for low-power viewing, and compound microscopes with powerful lenses that feature multiple powers. The microscopes came from several CSULA biology laboratories and classrooms. They will be replaced by 150 state-of-the-art Leica compound microscopes and 50 stereo microscopes.

“The best way to get students excited about science is to involve them in doing hands-on science. This gives the schools the opportunity to actively engage their students in science by having them learn how to use a piece of equipment commonly used in science labs,” said Nancy McQueen, professor and chair of Biological Sciences at CSULA. “In using microscopes, a whole new, previously unseen microscopic world is suddenly accessible to the students.”

CSULA’s microscope “recycling” and equipment refurbishing are being coordinated by Wendie Johnston, director of the Los Angeles/Orange County EWD Biotechnology Center at Pasadena City College (PCC), and member of the Pasadena Bioscience Collaborative, along with help from the Oak Crest Institute of Science in Pasadena and Auritec Pharmaceuticals.

The microscopes are being refurbished with a workforce development grant from the California Community College Chancellor's Office and the help of PCC student volunteers. High school students were recruited to help with the refurbishing by spending a Saturday conducting the initial diagnostics on the microscopes before students and other volunteers from PCC began the process of repairing them.

Ten microscopes were also provided to PCC for a new project-based biology program, and four went to the community college’s Natural Sciences Study Tech Lab.

“The microscopes’ optics are in excellent shape but many needed repairs and some alignment. Microscopes today incorporate recent advances in materials and lighting so it makes sense that microscopes are upgraded in university labs,” said Johnston. “Fortunately, bulbs for these scopes are still available and some websites carry the parts necessary for the repairs of these older microscopes, which have wonderful optics.”

Wielenga plans to use South Pasadena’s refurbished microscopes beyond campus.

“Having the scopes opens up a new path to investigate their [his students’] world. These scopes enable them to see macroscopic organisms up close,” said Wielenga. “I plan to use them in the field when we identify macro invertebrates in the local Arroyo Seco. It is difficult to see important identification details with just a small magnifying glass. So our data will be more accurate.”

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