HeLa Cell Program: Exploring Microscopy and Cancer

By Tom Gralinski, STEM Coordinator
Smith College Jandon Center for Community Engagement.
Date: December 2016

Program Description:  On Thursday, December 1st, Zoe Rosenthal and Thane Thomsen from The Literacy Project in Northampton brought their classes to the Smith College Center for Microscopy and Imaging to learn about cancer and learn more about microscopes. This particular program was developed and lead by Allison Sirois ‘OGR, Suzanne Abreu ‘17 and Varsha Subramaniam ’17 with guidance from Judith Wopereis, Center for Microscopy and Imaging Technical Director.

The program was inspired by another adult literacy program’s use of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot for their class English reading. Connecting the science and ethical questions raised in the book to a lab activity was the motivation for developing this follow-up session on microscopy with a focus on cancer. This is the third or fourth time the team has taught this 2 hr. activity.

The range of questions about cancer is a much more fluid and challenging with a class of adults. The leadership and preparation of Allison, Suzanne and Varsha created an awesome activity to share with the community.

  • #1

#1 – Suzanne watches as one of the students takes a closer look at the cancer cell specimens.

#2 – Judith answers some questions about cancer.

#3 – Varsha assists a student with the focus.

#4 – Another group of students takes a look at the HeLa cells.

#5 – Allison troubleshoots a microscope issue for one of the students.