Ironwood Ridge students research ricin - AZEdNews
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Ironwood Ridge students research ricin

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To offer JTED students a timely education working alongside renowned experts, the Ironwood Ridge High School (IRHS) SMART Team is researching the lethal protein ricin in hopes of landing a spot at the 2014 National SMART Team meeting in San Diego, CA in April.

“Science isn’t just about memorizing facts from a textbook,” says National SMART Team Program Director Shannon Colton, Ph.D. “We try to find a protein that is in the recent news, or is relevant to the students. In this way, we are hoping that students can see that science is happening all around us on a daily basis and that there is a great deal of importance not just to the scientific community, but to humanity in general.”

Colton says ricin was chosen because of the summer postal mailings to President Obama, top officials, and organizations. The New York Times, citing intelligence insiders, also reported Al-Qaida’s Yemeni branch appears to be making an effort to stockpile ricin for aerial dispersal in the U.S. Moreover, ricin was recently featured in the final episode of the popular TV series Breaking Bad.

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The SMART Team program was initiated at the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s Center for BioMolecular Modeling through a National Institute of Health – Science Education Partnership Award grant. In its 13th year, the program enables high school students and their teacher to work closely with a research scientist to explore a topic under investigation in the lab.


This year, IRHS biotech teacher Liane Futch’s team is mentored by Dr. Nathan J. Cherrington, UA pharmaceutical sciences professor, director of graduate studies, department head and 1885 Society Distinguished Scholar. Using 3D printing technology, 60 SMART Teams nationwide will generate physical models as they strive to qualify for the San Diego conference. There is no actual ricin in the classroom.


“The experience not only provides a glimpse of the many careers that are available in the broader health care industry, but also gives the students their first taste of the kind of satisfaction and excitement that can come from research and discovery,” says Cherrington.

For more information about the SMART Team’s work, see the team’s Popplet.