An Interview with Dr Nick Reeves

This is an interview with Dr Nick Reeves concerning the Cell Culture Lab in the Eagle MakerSpace, March 15,2018

By Jenny Hughes, MSJC Outreach Specialist

JH – Hi, everyone, this is Jenny Hughes, the Mt San Jacinto College Outreach Specialist, talking with Dr Nick Reeves about the Eagle MakerSpace on the Menifee Valley Campus. He’s been instrumental in its design and has established a Cell Culture Lab as a unique main feature. First of all, what are we talking about when we refer to a “makerspace?”

NR – Jenny, our idea of a makerspace is a place where students with different backgrounds and majors can create something from their imagination with tools that would otherwise not be available. The hope is that we can do this without formal instruction, just with the help of an onsite Aide.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, makes the case for opportunity being a key ingredient of success; exceptional people are not merely those of exceptional talent but also have special access. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got mainframe access. We want to acquaint students with high-tech equipment and observe that to be their propellant.

JH – So, it’s all about “making,” isn’t it? Is this making-idea something that originated here at MSJC?

NR – Well, no, although it should be said that in Biotech and in Engineering we’ve always taught with an appreciation for hands-on learning and project-based activity.

No, what’s happening is a nationwide, actually international, phenomenon called the Maker Movement. In its original form, the Movement was a trend toward creating and marketing products that are recreated and assembled using unused or discarded materials or components from computer-related devices. It is so much broader now. We are experiencing a renaissance of “making it yourself.”

In California, a new organization called CCCMaker has arranged for state funding to put makerspaces into Community Colleges in furtherance of “Maker Education.” That’s the source of our grant funding for the Eagle MakerSpace.

JH – Did you say something about “CCCMaker?” Does that C-C-C refer to California Community Colleges? Do all the 100-or so community colleges have makerspaces like this?

NR – California Community Colleges is exactly right, but just 24 colleges statewide have been funded, based on competitive proposals. The process, by the way, has been extraordinary. I think some 70 colleges initially expressed interest and all of us were gradually and carefully acquainted with what was desired if funding were to be granted. All this was supported with webinars, face-to-face “meet ups,” easily available tech assistance.

The awardees then all met in San Mateo last summer to exchange ideas and experience the California Maker Faire. Stunning. Hundreds of exhibitors: students from elementary school to college; businesses of all sorts; products from aesthetically remarkable to ingeniously practical to downright quirky.

JH – So I get the idea that the Eagle MakerSpace is rather unique. First, just because it’s a makerspace. Then, just a fraction of community colleges have a makerspace to begin with, and then here at MSJC we have this Cell Culture Lab. That’s all about biology, right?

NR – Yes, you’re right, Jenny. The Cell Culture Lab we’re outfitting is all about biology. “Cells” are known to be the basic building blocks of all living things and over the past 50 years or so, scientists learned how to grow cells outside the organism. This allows for much easier study. We do study, for example, to advance the cause of disease treatment, to test methods of tissue repair, and so on. We do study here at the college to advance student learning and to prepare students for jobs in the field.

JH – What would be a typical project that a student might do using the Cell Culture Lab? What would you start with? And end up with?

NR – We would like to simulate a biotech manufacturing environment in the cell culture section of the Eagle MakerSpace. You can introduce genetic information from any source into a cell. For instance, a human insulin cell could be used to produce a protein product.

Have you ever heard of GFP? This is an interesting story. Green Fluorescent Protein is the substance that causes a particular kind of jellyfish to glow green. No kidding. And scientists have learned to extract it and insert it in other organisms to assist in experimentation. A big advantage of GFP, if it is properly introduced, is that it can be passed from one generation of an organism to the next. This lets you do continued study of certain cells and tissues. The GFP alone doesn’t interfere with biological processes. And you can see results simply by illumination with proper blue light that stimulates the green fluorescence. We’ll be doing that sort of work.

JH – What can a student learn from doing a project with the Cell Culture Lab? Can’t you learn the same thing from reading the Biology textbook? Or look it up on the Internet?

NR – Jenny, the answer is, no, and there are several reasons. First, as you might imagine, there is no substitute for seeing it firsthand. More practically though, biotech companies highly value hands-on experience. Many biology grads cannot get hired because other candidates who do have job skills are chosen instead.

Here at MSJC we pleased to have San Diego Miramar College as a partner and we are able to model some of their programs in training grads and re-trainees.

The job market is not very good for those who are just “book-learners.”

JH – That’s pretty convincing, Dr Reeves. I want to know more, but it occurs to me that others might want to know just a little about what else there is to do in the Eagle MakerSpace. I’ve seen the 3D printers. What can you do with those, and what else is going on?

NR – A student can computer-design an object – a part for a machine, a part to go into some assembled project, a work of art, or a simple figurine, then direct the printer to make the piece. Our 3D printers are lined up along one wall of the makerspace where they can be seen, through picture windows, from outdoors. Passing students can peek in and see products being built.

Once inside the makerspace, you can see our laser cutter. Over time we’ll accumulate more equipment. The equipment is computer controlled and connected to the network, so design work can be done remotely, in a classroom or elsewhere, and then the maker can remotely drive a printer to make a product. There’s local control too, of course; some equipment requires that.

While the high tech equipment provides the “opportunity” that I spoke of, many students will want to be in the makerspace to do projects that don’t necessarily involve equipment. We accommodate all those who want to “make” and especially to be in the company of others of like mind… all backgrounds, all majors.

Over time, as we accumulate experience, and photos, we’ll maintain an Idea Book that can be viewed on our website. Need inspiration? This’ll be it.

JH – Quite amazing. When can I bring my daughter over to start a project? My birthday is coming up and she needs to get busy on a mommy present. I’m not so sure I want a cell culture though.

NR – The Eagle MakerSpace is open every weekday. It’s available to all Mt San Jacinto students. I know she’s one, and she could become an Eagle Maker. And since you’re interested in biology, maybe she is too.

JH – Well, maybe. You’ll be interested to know that I did read your course description, “Methods for Eukaryotic Cell Culture Techniques.” If I understand correctly, some student Makers come to the Eagle MakerSpace to do their hobbies and others come to do class assignments… both kinds of making take place there. So this course would use the Cell Culture Lab for class assignments, right?

NR – I see the Eagle MakerSpace occupied by student Makers, working on table tops and working with equipment, building their things, talking about it, learning, and enjoying. Some will have classroom assignments. Some will be hobbyists. All will have a great deal in common.

You know, just a while ago we staged an event called, The “Biosphere in a Bottle” Challenge (held March 13, 2018 in anticipation of the April 6 presentation by novelist T.C. Boyle). This was the kickoff for students growing plants in their Biosphere in a Bottle over MSJC spring break. The plants that grow the highest with the best survival of the critters in their biosphere win the chance to have dinner with T.C. Boyle himself.

JH – How wonderfully innovative, Dr Reeves. Projects, special events, parts of courses, all in the Eagle MakerSpace. It seems to me that the Eagle MakerSpace has a practical side and a fun side. No, they aren’t “sides.” Maybe that’s the point… practical and fun, thoroughly intermingled. What do you think?

NR – I believe you’re right on the mark, Jenny.

JH – Excellent. This has been so illuminating. Dr Reeves, thanks so much for spending the time with us. Tell us now where we can find more information about the Eagle MakerSpace, would you?

NR – Sure, you’ve got the Eagle MakerSpace link, and you’ll find more about the statewide program at And stay tuned for MSJC notices about special events, workshops, summer programs. We’re getting the word out.



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