Tag: Student Research
We believe strongly in our approach to research at McMurry. We see research as not being the “other” thing professors do after they have completed their teaching for the week; we see research as a great teaching tool for the average student. For instance, in Microbiology this semester the final project students are doing is determining whether their cell phones put out sufficient radiation to mutate the Staphylococci they isolated and identified from their bathrooms during project two. By doing this, they are learning literature searches, experimental design, development of antibiotic resistance by bacteria through random mutations (or in this case radiation-induced mutations), and scientific writing. All good skills we would have expected from our capstone students (well, the mutagenesis probably would’ve been some other investigation). Here, they are doing these things as sophomores. Similar approaches to research as a teaching tool are seen in many other BIMS courses, starting with their yeast fermentation experiments in their first semester General Biology I course.
But beyond research in regular lab courses, we also expect every student to have a capstone project involving research or internship. Research project currently in progress include the following:
- Studying the metagenomics of populations arising in Winogradsky columns vs. those of populations arising in Benoit columns (our Dr. Benoit has developed an alternative formulation for Winogradsky columns that uses diatomaceous earth instead of actual water source sediment as the basis for the solid phase of the column – see prior posts for more on this!). We are determining whether the Benoit column develops similar population profiles as those arising using actual sediment.
- Studying the presence of Coronaviruses in bat populations. Bat guano is collected and screened using genomic tools. Methodology began with samples recovered from museum specimens and has progressed to catching bats in the field and obtaining fresh samples.
- Studying the genomics of moles from museums around the nation to determine the biogeography and distribution of unique populations. Discovery of the westernmost specimens in Texas by one of our professors has led to this study to figure out which eastern population was the source so that a migration map can be constructed.
- Recovery of antimicrobial and anti-cancer chemicals from regional plants. Samples are obtained, studied chemically and physiologically for antibacterial properties on the McMurry campus. Collaborations between our faculty and those at other universities (University of San Francisco, Baylor University, and University of Pennsylvania) allow more advanced chemical analysis and anti-cancer screening assays.
- Studying the migration of crabs from coastal areas to inland lakes in Texas. Lots of time is spent sampling regional lakes for the presence of these invasive species to determine routes and methods they use for finding new freshwater habitats. A parallel study to this is the attempt to breed the crabs in captivity, something that has never been successfully done.
Is this it? Is this all our students have to choose from? Nope. This is simply the projects currently underway. We hope others will join our Research Teams and find their own, unique project from these and other options available at McMurry
Campus architect Rick Weatherl brought the floorplan for the lab renovation by yesterday for me to review. We are at the stage where we know pretty well where the walls will be. Now we have to figure out how to make those spaces as efficient and effective as possible for course delivery. We’ve gone from what the spaces might look like to now having to consider how do we make them work.
One feature we chose to include in our design was a concept first seen at a Project Kaleidoscope facilities conference at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. UST had just completed a $39M building and hosted the meeting to show off their facilities. Being a microbiologist, I’ve always been on the lookout for effective lab designs that would work for my courses. Their microbiology lab had several features I thought particularly useful, and when combined with some of the things I liked best about the Texas A&M lab renovation from my time there gave me an overall approach to the new labs that we all believe will help us deliver exciting and effective courses.
In particular, we wanted our labs to allow faculty and student research. So, we developed spaces for students to set up projects (see PROJ at left) that would not interfere with other courses being taught in the same lab (a UST feature). We also wanted an anteroom where students could come and check on their cultures and do day-to-day work while other labs were in session (an A&M feature, see PREP at left). And we wanted our labs to be useful not just for hands-on labwork but also to be comfortable enough to also serve as our lecture space (a UST feature). We are adding a few ideas of our own – flat panel TV/monitors on the walls instead of digital projectors for greater definition when projecting bacterial images; cardswipe entry to allow students into zones of the spaces for conducting research after-hours. We’ve also decided printing out research posters (our students often do this as their lab report format) makes little sense when they can be fed by computer into flat panel monitors on the walls in the halls. So, our labs will be high-tech and versatile. As our architect put it, “When someone walks into the front doors of our building, those flat panels would scream, ’science is going on here’.” No longer will this be a static, lifeless place.
It is exciting to be part of this transformation of spaces. But it is even more exciting to be part of a program that is fearless about trying new approaches to find what works to build student learning. The spaces are different for a reason and purpose because our programs are different for a reason and purpose.
The 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.