Just What is an Autoclave, Anyway?

Ginny Brown, the Molecular Genetics teacher at Churchill, comes in for prep every day and gives her friend Kevin a pat and a hug. But Kevin is not another person; Kevin is the name she has given the autoclave, which the WCHS Educational Foundation funded for the benefit of the high school.

Why the name Kevin? It was inspired by one of the Minions from Despicable Me. She said. “It does everything. It does it quickly, it does it perfectly, and it never complains.”

For those of us who do not know what an autoclave is or understand its importance to the school, Mrs. Brown, who has taught at Churchill for 23 years, explained it as precisely as only a science teacher can.

An autoclave is a machine that sterilizes using high temperature and pressure. It is used to sterilize medium to grow bacteria. She explained further, “We want to grow bacteria so that we can understand bacteria because eventually, we’re going to take those same bacteria that we work with and change their genetic makeups, so we take bacteria that’s white and we make it glow green by giving it a gene for green fluorescent protein, or we take bacteria that are killed by antibiotics and we give it a resistance gene so it can grow in the presence of antibiotics.”

Besides Molecular Genetics, the autoclave has been used for AP and Honors Biology. The reason many students may not be familiar with it is that they do not actually use it, rather it is used for lab prep for the classes, which the teachers handle. The students then work with the media created by the autoclave.

It does everything. It does it quickly, it does it perfectly, and it never complains.


It was back in August of last year that the Churchill Science Department discovered the autoclave they had been using for nearly 25 years was irreparably broken, just before classes were to begin.

Realizing the great need for a new autoclave, the difficult timing, and the District’s limitations, Mrs. Brown turned to the WCHS Educational Foundation and applied for a grant using the website application.

The Foundation issued an urgent appeal to the donors, and thanks to their generosity, was able to fund the autoclave at a cost of nearly $6,000 by that October.

Since receiving the new autoclave, Mrs. Brown has used it to create nearly 200 “flasks” of “medium.”

By having the autoclave available for class prep, Mrs. Brown is able to teach for six periods a day; it makes her class prep time flow smoothly and efficiently. This, in turn, enables all the students who wish to take her classes, able to do so. And it gives them the opportunity for the hands-on experience of working with the media created by the autoclave.

She and her fellow science teachers have felt so assisted by the new autoclave that they plan to formalize its designation as Minion Kevin; it will soon sport an image of the Minion on its door as its official name tag.

Contributed by Mary Lankester, Board Member, and Laura DeMarco, Class of 2018