Harvard Life Sciences Outreach Program Coordinator Uses Rap Music to Spark Students’ Interest in Science, the Amgen Biotech Experience

Dec 11, 2015 1:10 PM ET

Guest Post Written by Rebecca Lewis, EDC

With a passion for science and a desire to teach future generations, Alia Qatarneh, program coordinator for the Life Sciences Outreach Program at Harvard and the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) in Massachusetts, is remixing the way high school students across the state are studying science.

Using popular music from artists like Drake and Nicki Minaj, Alia is creating rap music remixes about scientific procedures. Her parody of Drake’s “Started from the Bottom,” for example, focuses on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) lab protocol for isolating DNA and features lyrics like, “started with a cheek cell, now my DNA is in the clear” and, “isolate my cells from the jump, swab my mouth for buccal cells, centrifuge to a clump.”

“I wrote my first rap, ‘Please Don’t Stop Mitosis’ using the melody from Rhianna’s, ‘Please Don’t Stop the Music,’ during finals week my senior year at Northeastern University,” explains Alia. “It was an easy and fun way to memorize some of the content I was going to be tested on, but now, these songs are helping teachers engage with students and ‘reel them in’ to science.”

Along with engaging students in a fun and clever way, Alia is working with the ABE program to help implement hands-on biotech labs across Massachusetts using funding provided by the Amgen Foundation. In her role at the Harvard Life Sciences Outreach Program, Alia assists in the training, development and execution of the ABE program across the state. She is also actively involved in helping develop teacher workshops and teaching off-campus laboratory experiences in participating ABE schools. As she explained in a recent blog post, “the program integrates a hands-on, inquiry-based molecular biology curriculum designed to introduce, with extensive teacher support, the excitement of scientific discovery to students.”

By providing engaging science experiences and rap music in her classroom, Alia is inspiring students to rethink the ways they study and communicate science. Just ask a couple of her previous students:

  • "You [Alia] gave me inspiration to find my ‘inner-rapper.’ Not only that, but the ABE Program allowed me to learn what reading could never teach… the experience will be ingrained in my memory forever,” said Alia’s former student Sanket Bhagat.
  • Another student, Max Allen, is now studying microbiology at University of New Hampshire and attributes his success to the collaboration of Alia and his Advanced Placement Biology teacher, Sylvie Thierren. “After listening along with the lyrics in front of me, the song helped me learn mitosis and I actually sang it in my head during a test! I'm now at the University of New Hampshire studying microbiology because of your raps!”

In partnership with ABE, Alia has helped over 14,000 students discover how cool science can be through the ABE’s real-world labs and her creative twists on scientific teaching methods.

To learn more about what people are saying about ABE, visit the Amgen Biotech Experience website and follow @ABEProgOffice. Follow @AmgenFoundation to stay up to date with all STEM-related news from the Amgen Foundation.