Alison Sheridan is an AirPort junkie.
No, she doesn’t hang out at PDX watching the jets take off, rather
she is addicted to perks made possible by the AirPort card in her new
Macintosh iBook. This cutting-edge wireless technology lets you access
the internet from anywhere—without cables, phone lines, or complicated
networking hardware. For Sheridan, this means she can get online in the
library, the ETC, and the biology and chemistry buildings: “I am
beginning to forget that internet access is not a standard feature of
mobile computers,” she says. With the AirPort she can use an internet
search engine in the lab while checking email and using programs such
as DNA Strider.
DNA Strider is just one of the tools Sheridan,
a junior biology major, uses in Peter Russell’s Genetics 361 lab
course. This course is distinctive in that it focuses on a novel research
project for the entire semester; the lab begins on the first day with
introduction of an unresearched biological phenomenon that the students
will be investigating start to finish. The project assigned to Sheridan’s
class is stop- codon read-through in a plant pathogen, tomato bushy stunt
virus. Reed’s updated biology labs will facilitate DNA cloning techniques
and related research much more efficiently now that they all have new
centrifuges, buzz spinners, incubators, and a confocal microscope available
for student work. Labs are also now equipped with at least two machines
for polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique used to amplify specific
regions of known DNA from a larger sequence.
Which brings us back to Sheridan’s handy tool, DNA Strider, a program
used to make computer models of DNA clones and to check PCR experiments.
There are also search engines on the web that are useful for cloning experiments,
allowing you to run sequences against others that have been found and
characterized. For this purpose, the biology labs are each equipped with
about a dozen iBooks with AirPorts for students to use during the lab.
Also accessible through these communal AirPorts is Reed’s own internet
server, the platform that houses academic software files from which students
are able to download such programs as DNA Strider or Statview to their
own computers. A number of professors use the server to post course information
such as lab handouts and past exams for student reference—Sheridan’s
organic chemistry class has its own web page with materials such as the
lab manual and links to assigned articles.
Sheridan tells a story that illustrates the ultimate convergence of AirPort
capabilities in the lab setting: “While preparing for a take-home
genetics exam, I stopped in to see Peter Russell with some questions I
had. I walked in with my usual ridiculously large backpack, coat, purse,
and laptop bag dangling from me. I sat down and began to ask Peter questions
about a method I had stumbled across for screening mRNA levels in different
experimental groups. I pulled out my iBook and was showing him emails
from a friend at a lab in Colorado, Google search results on the method,
and a downloaded PowerPoint lecture from a professor in Michigan on differential
mRNA assays, all the while showing him DNA Strider maps of the plasmids
my lab group was constructing for our project.” With this convergence
of capabilities, who needs graph paper anymore?