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Biotech class provides students with real-world science skills

Team 5 in the research biotech class at Rock Canyon High School (left to right):  Veronica Pestolski, Katelynne Wilkins of Castle Pines, and Sarah Childs, prepare to study the effects of blue light on zebrafish embryos as part of a real-world scientific experiment.

By Lisa Nicklanovich; photo courtesy of RCHS

Imagine a high school class where the students get to decide what they will study and how they will go about studying it.  At Rock Canyon High School (RCHS), students are taking a real-world research course in the field of biotechnology and following the scientific process; they design their own experiments, write research proposals, and work to gain approval for their research.  Once approved, the students secure their own funding, conduct their research, interpret the data they collect, and publish their research findings in the school’s science research journal.

Katelynne Wilkins, a senior at RCHS and a Castle Pines resident, along with teammates Sarah Childs and Veronica Pestolski chose to study the effects of blue light on zebrafish embryos.  All technological devices emit blue light and scientists have found that blue light is responsible for the suppression of melatonin, which the body naturally produces to onset sleep.  The team is taking the research further by studying the effects of blue light on morphology and behavior in zebrafish embryos.

Wilkins said, “Research biotech is such an amazing experience for everyone that is in it because it not only teaches us the basics of scientific research, but it has also connected us with opportunities that will continue to help us for years to come.”  Wilkins is planning on studying health sciences or biology at CU Boulder.

The team successfully gained funding for their research project and are working with four researchers from the University of Colorado at Denver.  After learning how to properly handle and analyze the zebrafish embryos, the team will conduct the research, then interpret the data and publish their research findings.

Shawndra Fordham, biotechnology teacher at RCHS said, “These students are going to leave this course knowing if science is for them, and are going to have a skill set that will take them into college.  This experience will help them get internships in labs where they can conduct research as undergraduates and then help their futures with getting into master’s and graduate programs.  The opportunities are immense and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

The class includes ten teams, each one working on its own unique research project.  For more information on all the teams, visit



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