BIMS

Tag: scientific research

Home Port

by gwilson on May.22, 2011, under A Day in the Life...

dolph-towLast night I finished a book on the submarine the USS Scorpion and was struck by how busy naval ships are when they return to their home ports.  Rather than the boats sitting idle while the crew gets some R&R, it is a time when systems are tested, problems are fixed, and improvements are made.  With the close of the spring semester and the onset of summer, we find our BIMS program returning from a year “at sea” where the courses and techniques and facilities have been operating to conduct our “mission” – teaching BIMS majors.  Now with the conclusion of the year, we are  back in “home port” doing the same program tests, fixes, and upgrades submariners do before we take our program back out to sea next fall.  We find ourselves taking stock of what worked, what didn’t, and what comes next…

What worked.

  • We were pleased with the direction taken in BIMS 1300 Introduction to Scientific Research.  The focus on learning the basics of how science is conducted, how to critically analyze the world around us, and how to apply the skills of science and analysis to better understand  our world was a positive development this year.
  • We were pleased with the functionality of the new spaces for teaching and research that came online in November.  The micro lab was used by three different lab/lecture classes without any trainwrecks.  The student project spaces gave us flexible space to support student work outside of regular hours that functioned flawlessly.  Student card access to the labs was appreciated by students and allowed some previously impossible activities (round-the-clock monitoring of growth) to take place.  New equipment in the student research labs and teaching labs gave new approaches for studying lab problems.
  • We were pleased with the new Genetics course taught by Dr. Brosius.  As a more balanced mixture of Mendelian, population, and molecular genetics, it gave an exceptional foundation for students ready to delve deeper in Molecular Cell Biology classes next year.
  • We were pleased with the transition to a new schedule for offering BIMS courses in the freshman sequence.  Next year, our new sequence will be fully operational.

What didn’t work.

  • We found the positioning of some pieces of equipment in our new spaces to be less than ideal.  For instance, a large rack for placement of backpacks and student materials went unused and students continued to put those things on the floor of the lab.  Incubators were crowded together making access by students from two classes meeting simultaneously very difficult.  After “living in the spaces” for a full semester, we will “rearrange some of the furniture” this summer.
  • We found less success in Advanced Micro and capstones than was hoped.  We realized halfway through the semester that student ownership of the projects was necessary in order to move them toward self-sufficiency and greater investment in getting results, and so we made adjustments to that effect.  Still, at the end we realized there were other steps we could have taken to improve the experience and the productivity.
  • A hiring freeze undermined our efforts to fill the vacant molecular biologist position that has hamstrung us during the year.  We are unable to deliver our complete BIMS program without that person, and so we found ourselves scrambling to substitute courses to allow students to graduate.  The result was for those graduates a fine degree but in some ways lacking of all the breadth and depth BIMS should have.

What’s next?

  • BIMS faculty are spending May taking stock of what worked and what didn’t with the intention to refine our efforts to improve our program.  This annual review and planning insures we don’t continue doing the same things in the same ways out of habit or because it is easy.
  • Even in the midst of a hiring freeze, we have secured the services of McM alumna Sheena Banks to teach molecular courses for us as an adjunct.  Sheena received her MS in Immunology from UTMB and is working as a Research Associate at the TTUHSC School of Pharmacy.  This should help us bring a major portion of the molecular dimension of the BIMS program back online.
  • We will continue to experiment with courses and their delivery next year.  For instance, the BIOL 1301 Unicellular Organisms course and BIMS 1101 Uni Lab will receive a major overhaul next year to help strengthen areas in student learning that our testing of junior and senior BIMS students has revealed.  Also,  the BIMS 4491 Advanced Micro course for the fall will focus on spore ecology and physiology, and will meet in two hour blocks three times weekly.  Students will see how different compositions of growth media influence the size and resistance of Bacillus thuringiensis endospores.  Our expectation is that this work will result in presentation at the spring meeting of the Texas Branch of the American Society for Microbiology and subsequent publication.

All this is to say the BIMS program is not static, is never satisfied.  While for many on campus the summer represents a time of rest, for us it is a very busy time.  We want our program to be the best it can be – battle-ready and tested, improved – when we set sail again next fall to accomplish our mission to give BIMS majors the very best knowledge and skills and experiences possible.

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Last Week in BIMS

by gwilson on Feb.27, 2011, under Projects

We had another BUSY week in Biomedical Science courses.

  • Freshman-level BIMS 1300 Intro to Scientific Research students learned how to use their Tablet PCs to gather data from a “Brain Test” all students took (determined analytical vs. creative, auditory vs. visual) and calculate standard error of the mean, as well as linear regression analysis of data sets.  In the lab, students finished up their observation projects that will be presented in the coming week.
  • The new microbiology course for allied health majors, BIOL 3403 Fundamentals of Microbiology participated in a webinar hosted by McMurry alumna Mary Lynn Smith (’83) on biofilms in healthcare.  This was an example of how experts and professionals a thousand miles away can contribute to our students’ education.
  • In BIOL 3410 Microbiology, students finished the identification of Gram positive bacteria found in their cars.  They are working on research posters describing their studies and will turn those in next week.  In short, they took samples from the HVAC and interior surfaces of their cars, isolated and purified bacteria, and pursued identifications of the Gram positive cocci found using conventional tests and the BD-BBL Crystal(TM) Rapid ID panels.  Follow-up tests included testing for oxacillin-resistance, an indicator of community-borne MRSA.
  • In BIMS 4391 Advanced Microbiology, students moved forward in their development of antibiotic-producing bacteria.  They completed the identification of their endospore-formers using microscopy, conventional tests, and BD-BBL Crystal(TM) Rapid ID panels.  Then, they grew their bacterium in batch culture, removed the cells and spores by centrifugation and filtration, and challenged six microbes (two Gram negative rods, two Gram positive cocci, two yeasts) with the filtrate in disk diffusion tests.  Those antibiotic producers with the most promise will be grown in our new benchtop fermenters and their products characterized by chemical, physical, and physiological means to learn more.
  • In our BIMS 4201 Capstone Research class, senior students began cultivating the Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain genetically-modified with human estrogen receptor as a prelude to the use of the YES assay for monitoring the presence of estrogen-mimics in the environment.

All this may sound way beyond the  reach of normal college students in normal college classes.  Not so!  We find that students are more engaged in learning techniques and information when there’s a reason or goal – a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!  It is at the heart of the skills-laden, research-rich approach taken in teaching BIMS courses.

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Semester Underway

by gwilson on Jan.22, 2011, under Program

155183_470163067634_676602634_5779494_82383_nMcMurry’s spring semester is underway and classes for Biomedical Science majors continue to draw interest from students and campus leaders.  The BIMS 1300 Intro to Scientific Research course is filled beyond capacity.  Taught by Dr. Wilson, students will explore what science is, how scientists work, and how the methods of science influence all of society.  For instance, next week students will watch a video on the design firm IDEO and explore the basic science, applied science, engineering, and design that have gone into a variety of consumer products.

Dr. Benoit is teaching BIOL 1301 Unicellular Organisms to a healthy number of students.  Their semester-long project will investigate protozoans and will culminate with identification, characterization, and photomicrography of single-celled organisms.  This has proven to be a very popular and interesting class for new freshmen, and sets the stage well for a degree program filled with hands-on exploration of biomedical topics.

BIOL 3410 Microbiology is also filled to capacity and BIOL 3430 Human Physiology has a healthy enrollment.  Both are part of the sophomore sequence for all BIMS majors.  Dr. Wilson’s Micro course will feature lab projects looking at the microbial census of student cars, microbes in fresh foods, and viruses from the soil. As always, the focus is on learning knowledge and skills by jumping into research projects – students work as scientists to learn about microbiology.  Dr. Sharp’s Human Phys will use a mixture of computer sims and hands-on biometrics to explore the workings of the human body.

Also being taught this semester is BIMS 4391 Advanced Microbiology.  Dr. Wilson is leading five students on a quest to isolate and identify endospore-forming bacteria that produce antibiotics.  Students will then produce the product using new benchtop fermenters and characterize the antibiotic product physically and chemically.  The class is also considering a jaunt down to T-Bar-M ranch for the Spring Meeting of the Texas Branch of the American Society  Microbiology, which emphasizes graduate and undergraduate research.  ROAD TRIP!

Another unique feature of the BIMS program is the BIMS 4000 Junior Exam course, where students take a departmental diagnostic exam over their first two years of courses to help assess their learning to this point and to help the department assess the effectiveness of its courses in teaching fundamental information.  The five students signed up for the course may take this online exam as often as needed to achieve a passing grade.

Finally, several students are engaged in capstone research this semester with Drs. Benoit and Wilson.  They will be ramping up the YES assay for detecting estrogen-like compounds in environmental samples of water and soil.  We’ve challenged them with developing the protocols for use on campus and developing the standard curve for the assay, then begin testing on some samples from area surface and ground waters.

So, it is a busy time for a healthy program.  Bright students have chosen our unique approach to education and are thriving in the hands-on environment.

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