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High-Tech Equipment + Van + Teachers = Science Lessons : Education: Occidental College program will allow students to conduct sophisticated experiments.


SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — Call it the movable scientific feast. This fall, a van outfitted with everything from test tubes to gas chromatographs will leave Occidental College in Eagle Rock and head for local high schools.

Once the vans are on campus, high-tech equipment will be unloaded onto carts. High school science teachers will roll the carts into their labs and students will be able to conduct sophisticated laboratory experiments that, until now, their teachers could only have dreamed about.

The program, called TOPS (Teachers + Occidental = Progress in Science) aims to improve science education in Los Angeles County high schools over the next five years by allowing students to do hands-on research in biology and chemistry.

Five Occidental professors and a steering committee of high school science teachers designed the program with a $700,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

"I'm really excited," said Janice Mangerino, a chemistry teacher at Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra who is among the 30 teachers participating in the program.

"One of the pieces of equipment is a computerized spectrophotometer that costs $14,000," Mangerino said. The machine, used in chemical analysis, measures the amount of light absorbed or transmitted by a substance, she said. "We could never dream of getting access to such things; that's my budget for scientific equipment for four years!"


Mangerino says students need exposure to high-tech equipment if they plan to continue in science.

Laura Hoopes, a professor of biology at Occidental College who helped write the grant, concurs.

"Students are very intellectually prepared and smart when they start college, but we find they've had essentially no lab experience, and we're very concerned about that," Hoopes said.

"Modern science is very equipment-intensive. We're trying to give the students a flavor of that."

Mangerino and the other science teachers spent two weeks at Occidental this month, familiarizing themselves with the equipment, drawing up lesson plans and conducting all the experiments so they can replicate them in class this fall.

Among the experiments: separating the different color pigments in leaves and algae, discovering why yeast produces more energy if exposed to oxygen and studying how an enzyme from human saliva breaks down starch.

Among the area schools participating are Diamond Bar High School, Hoover High School in Glendale, La Canada High School, Arcadia High School and La Salle High School in Pasadena. The van will visit each school for up to five days per semester, and teachers must schedule appointments ahead of time.

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