Tag: Student Research
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.
This spring, Dr. Tom Benoit is teaching BIMS 1101 Unicellular Organisms Lab. It is a standalone lab that accompanies the BIOL 1301 Unicellular Organisms Lecture; required for Biomedical Science majors but elective for everyone else. In its first time taught, the class has become a roaring hit with BIMS students who enjoy the liberty of designing and conducting experiments, recognize the breadth of skills being learned, and appreciate the practical approach to applying knowledge in an experimental setting.
This lab features a “tourist’s view” of the world of one-celled critters. The course for freshmen started with an introduction to bacteria - students building Winogradsky columns and learning aseptic technique and staining procedures. From there, students isolated and observed fungi and moved on to protists. Though many freshman courses show passing interest in one or two of these organisms, it is a rare course that is so completely devoted to their biology. In BIMS 1101, fundamentals of prokaryotes, fungi, and protists – their cell structure and physiology, taxonomy, and classification – all take center stage under one roof.
Students love the research-rich approach and hands-on work, due in no small part to Dr. Benoit. He has divided the class into research teams to conduct experiments, with the prep work of making media and solutions being part of their effort. As with other BIMS courses, skills build upon skills. All that has been learned will be put to the test when research teams undertake their final project – the isolation and selection of the fastest Chlamydomonas cultures they can find. The semester’s main event will be held at the end of April: Chlamy races, with the winning team being crowned Checkered Flag-ella Champions 2009. Stay tuned for updates and the outcome!