Tag: research-rich curriculum

New Equipment

by gwilson on Aug.29, 2009, under A Day in the Life...

C-0036-HKThis summer the Biomedical Science program was able to purchase several new pieces of equipment to support teaching of genetics and molecular biology courses.  Most notable, our aging Bio-Rad MyCycler thermocycler has a new partner-in-crime, a Bio-Rad real-time PCR thermocycler that will add capability for teaching and research.  Additionally, a new Bio Tek Ultra Microplate spectrophotometer and Nanodrop microvolume analyzer will help in analysis of samples.  We have two additional tissue culture hoods on order which will replace one old biological safety cabinet and add capacity for additional student work.  Chemistry was also able to purchase a gel documentation system.  Add to those the Hermle centrifuge obtained in May and it is clear the capabilities of our faculty and students has been significantly upgraded over the past six months.

So how was this done during trying economic times by a university that is not wealthy?  Several contributing factors made this possible.  First, budget decisions are based on assessment results.  BIMS faculty have been careful to document the weaknesses of students through the years and make a strong case for expenditures to improve teaching and learning.  They also have demonstrated how the purchases have led to gains in student performance, both through gains in Major Field Test scores and also in student involvement in research opportunities.  The research-rich curriculum of BIMS courses helps justify funding through departmental budget allocations and capital funds that have to be spent on capital items.  Second, the curricular innovation provided by the BIMS major supports President Russell’s Vision 2023 call for enhanced research for students and faculty, relevant programs, and attention to graduating students competitive for jobs of the next 20 years.  Also, funds provided by generous donors to the Imagine – Shaping the Future Capital Campaign have helped supply some of the funding not provided by other means.  When you are doing exciting things aligned with the vision and goals, and your efforts support the strategic plan, appreciative administrations are more likely to reward you!

Who wins?  McMurry’s students!  Their success is why we are here!

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Cross-Class Plans

by gwilson on May.05, 2009, under A Day in the Life...

07260307Today I met with Hyunshun Shin, our Organic Chemist and Molecular Biologist Heidi DiFrancesca to discuss a research proposal the two are putting together.  While collaboration among scientists is not unusual, I have to say that this partnership has some unique qualities.  In the end, it may mean an exciting breakthrough in cancer research, productive research for the two scientists, and some incredible experiences for their students.

The project centers on a discovery made by Dr. Shin of a chemical that has shown activity against cancer cells.  Though it has been proven to be potent, its toxicity has not proven to be useful (efficacious, I believe clinical folks would say).  Still, previous work suggests the potential for a derivative of the compound to exhibit the Holy Grail of selective toxicity seems high.  She will use part of the second half of the regular Organic Chemistry course she teaches to have her students synthesize derivatives for testing.  At the same time, Dr. D’s class will test the toxicity of the derivatives against breast cancer cells and normal tissues.  So, this represents students in two normal classes taken by all BIMS majors collaborating across class lines to work together in cancer research.  Every BIMS major, then, will have participated in the synthesis and testing of anticancer drugs before their senior year in college.  Somehow, my Organic class’s synthesis of isoamyl acetate pales in comparison!

Such use of regular classes as the stage for involving students in research is a strong reason for McMurry’s BIMS program to be recognized as one that represents the future of science education.   Is this an approach you’d see at UT or MIT or Stanford?  More and more, these cross-class connections will be used to teach our students through participation in science, rather than teaching them about science.  We’re committed to science as a verb, rather than science as a noun! 

Stay tuned for updates on how the Organic-Molecular Biology partnership is going, and on other collaborations as they develop.

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Micro Student Projects

by gwilson on Apr.27, 2009, under Projects

staph-bacitracin-mannitoThe end of the semester always bring forth a new crop of student research projects from the BIOL 3410 Microbiology lab.  The first portion of the course’s lab is filled with projects to teach skills and knowledge.  Then, in the last 5 weeks of the semester student groups design, conduct, analyze, and present their work. 

All of these projects were imagined and conducted by students.  They demonstrate the freedom students have in Microbiology to have some fun by using their skills to investigate more deeply an area of the course that was of particular interest to them along the way.  Here’s a synopsis of some of the projects conducted this spring.

“The inhibition of mannitol use in a Gram positive coccus by bacitracin.”  One group of students made a very curious observation when they were testing their unknown bacteria for antibiotic susceptibility.  One person’s Staphylococcus aureus was unable to use mannitol on MSA in the presence of bacitracin.  No other Gram positive cocci, including other strains of S. aureus, showed this unusual feature.  Their work investigated the phenomenon.

“Growth of bacterial cells in the presence of pomegranate and UV light.”  This group wanted to test the effectiveness of pomegranate juice as an anticancer agent by using DNA damage induced by UV light as their indicator for cell transformation.  They grew cells on media containing pomegranate extract, collected them and exposed them to UV light, and then tested their survival in comparison to controls.

“Growth and identification of bacteria isolated from raw vegetables.”  With the recent scare posed by Salmonella appearing in foods, this group decided to see whether any particular vegetables posed a greater threat in carrying those bacteria.  They found many bacteria and fungi, identified many of the bacteria, but found the vegetables tested were free from Salmonella.

“Impact of tobacco products on the growth of bacteria.”  Various tobacco products were added to growth media and growth curves were conducted to determine whether bacterial growth was retarded or enhanced.

These projects are indicative of the types routinely seen – students applying the skills learned in the course to study something of interest to them.  Are health supplements really effective?  Are my vegetables safe?  Do the chemicals in tobacco hurt cell growth?  If we accomplish in our courses the transference of knowledge to provide answers pertaining to the world at large, we have accomplished education’s greatest goal.

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