Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ROP Instructors Visit Local Renewable Products Company

ROP teachers, Ernie Liu (Concord High), James Hybarger (Antioch High), and Tom Huffaker (Piedmont High), share insights before the staff development presentation at Amyris in Emeryville.
On March 29, five Contra Costa County ROP biotechnology instructors and three other local high school teachers met after school over at Amyris, an innovative renewable products company, located in Emeryville, to take in a very insightful Teacher Development Day.  The program gave our teachers an overview of Amyris’ scientific process and a tour of their research & development and pilot-plant facilities. 

Thanks to a personal contact with the company, CCCOE’s West County Region Principal Student Programs Dave Fendel was able to set up this program.  "Amyris is a company that is developing cutting edge technologies and this is a way for our teachers to stay involved in what is happening in industry,” said Dave.  “Not only do teachers walk away from the day with an understanding of the science, but they leave with materials and activities to use with their students in the classroom.  The goal is to motivate teachers and equip them with information that will engage and excite their students about the possibilities of a career in biotechnology."

The afternoon began with a very thorough presentation made by four Amyris scientists about their pathway to developing renewable fuel made from such ingredients as yeast and sugar.  The presentation was followed by a tour of the modern state-of-the-art facility.

Our teachers certainly found it to be an outstanding and educational visit.  Concord High School ROP biotechnology teacher Ernie Liu, Ph.D., reported that he thoroughly enjoyed the trip—and he certainly knows something about the day’s topic.  The 12-year CHS instructor has a background of five years experience on yeast research, three of them were on Saccharomyces cerevisiae (a species of yeast that has been instrumental in the baking and brewing since ancient times) for his Ph.D. dissertation.  In addition, his postdoctoral experience was on enzymes that degrade aromatic hydrocarbon.

Dr. Liu said, “It was great to find out the latest information on genomic manipulation of yeast.  It was very impressive to know how far that the field of research has advanced.  It’s also good to see how this concept can be related with our current school projects, such as screening microbes on our campus.”

 Serving as our group’s host was Lexi Brayton, who serves as Amyris’ manager of internal communications and cultural initiatives.  Brayton noted that Amyris frequently hosts on-site educational tours and that their scientists have visited many ROP classrooms.  Brayton said, “Today, we wanted to provide the visiting teachers with information, resources, and enthusiasm they could use to prepare their students for these interactions, or simply to enhance their curriculum.”  

This day proved, once again, how our ROP department continues to develop strong partnerships with such local businesses as Amyris, and our instructors and students certainly enjoy the benefits of the very latest material to teach and learn.