Paul VI student trailblazes a new program

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Hannah Fulop, a senior at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, is the first student to take advantage of the school's new Directed Independent Study (DIS) program. Under the guidance of science teachers Michael Potter and Eileen Liberti, Fulop is culturing and growing fruit fly cells without instructions and using lab procedures she's designed herself.

The DIS program involves more than just signing up for a class. An interested student must think of an idea for a project, write a formal proposal, pick a faculty member to serve as mentor and pitch the idea to the chosen sponsor. Doing a directed independent study in science allows students to have hands-on experience with the science that they learn about in a typical classroom setting and explore scientific research for the first time. DIS is open to all students who have a passion for a particular subject matter, from science to history.

For her project, Fulop had to research everything from the chemicals she planned to use to the hardware involved, which ranged from liquid nitrogen to a special incubator she needed. No stranger to scientific research, she worked in a tissue culture lab last summer and took dual enrollment biology as a junior.

Fulop has been working on the first stage of her project since the beginning of the school year, fitting in lab time during her study hall period or outside of school hours. To begin her project, she received one milliliter of fruit fly cells from Indiana University. She then cultured those cells to grow more cells in an artificial environment. This is a difficult process, and Fulop admits that she struggled at first, especially because she had to transition away from a traditional classroom setting.

"At first, the independence was difficult," Fulop said. "But Dr. Potter and Mrs. Liberti helped a lot."

Besides the actual process of culturing the cells, Fulop had an additional challenge. She did the tissue culture without instructions to follow, meaning she wrote the lab procedure herself.

"Essentially, I wrote a lab so that future students could do what I did," she said.

After the culture, Fulop froze the cells and now has 70 milliliters of them. She plans to use the cells to do an experiment involving RNAi which she will adapt to the PVI equipment and materials, thus bringing an even more advanced level of science to the school.

"This is essentially a college-level activity and not at the first year level either," said Potter. "It can even be expanded to a far higher level depending on how you use the tissue culture technique."

Fulop appreciates the opportunity to sample this field of science as a possible springboard to her career, something that Liberti sees as a huge advantage.

"Students that are pursuing science in college are often offered opportunities to work in research labs on campus and coauthor papers and present posters," she said. "(DIS) offers an opportunity to prepare for that, but it is also a venue to allow a student to pursue personal interests at a high level of study and recognize those achievements."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016