2011 Bioathlon

The twenty-second annual Department of Biological Sciences Bioathlon for high school biology students was held on Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at Michigan Technological University.  Simultaneously, a workshop was held for the accompanying biology teachers.  The Bioathlon serves as a means to stimulate interest and problem-solving in biology among our youth.  Sixty four students from 18 high schools participated.

Bioathlon Featured in the News

Michigan Tech’s Bioathlon Daily Mining Gazette news story was picked up and featured in many news media around the nation:

Students in search of spiders

First Place: West Iron County, Iron River, Michigan HS
2nd Place Tie Chassell, Michigan HS
2nd Place Hancock, Michigan HS

The following high schools were represented:

  • A.D. Johnston
  • Baraga
  • Calumet
  • Chassell
  • Dollar Bay
  • Forest Park
  • Hancock
  • Houghton
  • Jeffers
  • Lake Linden
  • L’Anse
  • L.L.Wright  (Ironwood)
  • Negaunee
  • Superior Central
  • Wakefield
  • Watersmeet
  • West Iron County (Iron River)
  • Westwood (Ishpeming)

Each team was composed of four students who have not had formal class work in biology beyond the traditional sophomore high school general biology course.  All teams tackled the same four problems:

  1. Dissection – designed by Ronald Gratz, Ph.D., Dow Building, room Dow 707.
  2. Molecular Biology – designed by Aparna Deshpande, Ph.D, room Dow 711
  3. Field identification – designed by Meagan Harless, Ph.D. Candidate, North end, Tech Trails, off Cemetery Road
  4. Clinical Lab Science  – designed by undergraduates, Dana Kuncaitis, Julianna Daavtetila , Jessica Jacobson, Dow Building, room Dow 710

Through these exercises, students must demonstrate organizational skills, knowledge of facts and concepts, laboratory skills and creativity.

Each member of the first-place team will receive a $200 U.S. Savings Bond; the second-place team will receive a $100 U.S. Savings Bond; and the third-place team will receive a $50 U.S. Savings Bond.  A plaque will be awarded to the first-, second- and third-place teams.  Each student participating in the competition will also receive a certificate of participation and a Bioathlon T-shirt.

Teacher activities include: “Water quality of streams based on insect samples”, led by Chris Hohnholt, Director of Recruiting and Development, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences and “Keeping track of Wildlife”, led by Stacy Cotey, Academic Advisor Department of Biological Sciences

Funding is provided by MTU Admissions, the Department of Biological Sciences, the Michigan Tech Fund, and MTU Alumni Mark Cowan, M.D., Robert C. and Kathryn DellAngelo, M.D., Olive Kimball, D.Ed., Ph.D. and Sandra Lewin.

More Information

MTU Bio-Athlon Hints 2011

Note: The field identification will be outside and will be held rain or sunshine.  Please make sure your students are prepared to go outdoors for up to an hour at any point during the day.
Note: We will provide non-latex gloves but students will come in contact with preserved organisms containing trace amounts of formalin and phenol.  Also, the veins and/or arteries may be injected with latex.  Please check with your students about possible allergies.


This activity will be the dissection of a preserved vertebrate animal with the identification of organs required.  Students will not have access to dissection guides and will have to base their identifications on memory from their high school dissection experience and on the relationships of unknown organs to those that are known.  Dissection tools, safety goggles and gloves will be provided but participants should wear old clothing and/or bring a laboratory apron or coat.  Grading will be based primarily on the correctness of the identification but points will also be awarded for the quality of the dissection.

Field Identification

This activity will involve a search for some common organisms or their parts during a brief field trip.  This search will require general knowledge of biological materials including familiarity with both plants and animals and with their obvious external structures.

Case Studies in Clinical Laboratory Science

Students should:

  1. know the parts of, and how to correctly operate, move and carry, a compound microscope.
  2. know the reference ranges (normal values) for human:
    white blood cell (WBC) count
    red blood cell (RBC) count
    platelet count
    blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
  3. understand the procedure for how to perform:
    a Gram stain
    catalase and oxidase tests on bacteria
    ABO grouping and Rh typing
    antibiotic sensitivity testing
    a routine urinalysis
  4. study the symptoms and basic clinical tests associated with the following.
    Candida albicans
    urinary tract infection
    chronic anemia due to blood loss
    Clostridium difficile
    Giardia lamblia
    Entamoeba histolytica
    streptococcal infections
    heavy metal poisoning

Size Exclusion Chromatography

In this laboratory activity you will use a method called size exclusion chromatography to separate and identify two different biomolecules.  Chromatography is a widely used method of separation that is used to analyze complex mixtures of molecules.  There are many different kinds of chromatography; in this activity we will focus on size exclusion chromatography.  This method uses porous beads to separate out particles by size.  Large particles will pass around the beads and flow through faster, small particles will flow through the beads and the resistance will slow them down.  We will use a kit designed by Bio-Rad (a biotechnology company) to separate a mixture of hemoglobin and vitamin B12.  Afterwards you will be asked questions about the two molecules as well as the method used to separate them.

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