La Jolla Country Day students design equipment to aid scientists at La Jolla Institute of Immunology

Understandably, the scientists over at La Jolla Institute of Immunology (LJII) run a lot of tests in their mission to solve immune system diseases. And thanks to the middle school students in Dan Lenzen’s class at La Jolla Country Day School’s Design & Innovation program, LJII’s microscopy division is now testing new pipette and tube holders that will better help them conduct their research.

Conventionally, the scientists used single-sized test-tube holders and had to find an alternative should they work with tubes that were too big, too small or multiples of different sizes.

“That group of scientists likes to do a lot of improving methodologies and making their own tools to make process work better, but they don’t have time or engineering background,” said Lenzen.

Enter the students in his program. Each year, the Product Design elective is tasked with an issue or product, and designs, tests and 3-D prints a possible tool or solution. This year, they partnered with LJII in its fight against diseases — including type 1 diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s and asthma — through research.

“The innovation that the students brought to the pipette/tube holder project was astounding,” shares Paola Marcovecchio, microscopy specialist at LJII. “The students showed how exceptionally talented they are by the precision of the fittings and the out-of-the-box designs they came up with. The class as a whole displayed some really artistic and mature designs, and we are excited to implement these holders in our lab space.”

The new pipette and test tube holders are still being tested and changes are still being made, but that hasn’t dampened eighth-grader Garrett Bass-Sulpizio’s enthusiasm about the project.

“It’s kind of crazy to me that my pipette holder is in an actual lab,” he said. “I feel like engineering and design is what I want to do in the future, this is a good start to launch my dream. We get to be really creative, we just have basic guidelines.”

For this project, the students had to create a new test tube holder that was stable, allowed for visibility of what was in the test tube, use as little material as possible and be aesthetically pleasing.

The benefit to their design, Lenzen added, “In a single session, they can keep everything in one holder or have a variety of sizes in one place.”

“We had a lot of ideas, and it took a lot of designing, sketching, modifying, pen-and-paper revisions and a lot of measuring,” Garrett said.

This is the fourth year of the program at La Jolla Country Day School, and it has programming from the lower school up to high school.

“We do things from a technology and engineering course to a design to entrepreneurship course for the upper school where students find a problem, find solution and come up with a business to continue to work on that solution,” Lenzen explained. “We also have computer science and a Virtual Reality lab, we have a rocketry class, digital design, app design, etc. The students learn 21st Century skills, they create things that have a purpose and learn how to influence the world.

“We believe in getting outside our classroom and campus walls. Students learn that they can impact people’s lives and this prepares them for the world they’re going to enter, which is different from the world we entered.”

Previous partners included Camelback water bottle company, for which the team worked on a teen hydration project; and Ottoboch, which produces prosthetics and mobility devices.

“La Jolla Institute for Immunology is literally across the street from us, so I think we have taken students over there to get some feedback on a project and scientists gave us feedback, and that has been really unique,” Lenzen said.

Garrett added: “We have a lot of good tools in the innovation lab and can do a lot of good. If we want to make something to make the world a better place, we can make it here.”