Tag: Thomas Benoit
Recently, our family celebrated the marriage of our older son to a beautiful and talented young lady. When plans were being formed, they surprised us with one aspect of the reception that we could never have predicted – they wanted to square dance. It seems square dancing was featured at an event they attended while in college and the experience was so much fun that they wanted to make it a part of their wedding celebration. As much as we all were skeptical, they were RIGHT! We all had a great time.
I mention this because square dancing requires a few talents and skills that our BIMS program will be needing in the coming year. First, you have to be a good listener and thinker. Second, you have to be light on your feet. As the Caller directs the dancers through some tricky moves, so the BIMS program is going to have to direct its students through some tricky times.
The reason? Two of our BIMS faculty will be on sabbatical during the coming academic year. Dr. Wilson will be out during the fall semester, and Dr. Benoit will be out for the spring. They are working together on a project to develop a microbiology course for nursing majors that can be taught totally online. Wilson will create a lab that is part simulation, part field trips, part “kitchen micro”. Benoit will create over 100 20-minute lectures/activities to teach the content for the lecture portion of the course.
So in the same way that a square dancer has to be a great listener and thinker and light on their feet, the BIMS program is going to have to exhibit those skills as it adapts its course offerings and content to provide all BIMS curriculum over the two short-handed semesters. We have studied the progress of our BIMS majors and have been listening to what students want in the coming year. We have been thinking about appropriate substitutions from departments across campus. And we have started being “light on our feet” as we adapt what we will be doing during the year for our BIMS students.
May our doh-si-doh and promenade get the job done!
Senior BIMS major Luke Burcham has a fascination with fermentation. As an amateur brewmaster, his interest in the physiology of yeast fermentation has resulted in his choice for “life after McMurry”. He will be entering a graduate program at UC-Davis in January to study all things related to fermentation and brewing. From Borger TX to Davis CA is quite a move, but Luke is ready for the adventure.
With that in mind, Luke worked with Dr. Tom Benoit this semester to design a project that would give him a head-start on his graduate studies. After Luke reviewed some literature on the subject, he began to envision a project to investigate the impact of modifying the ion content of the growth medium for beer production to determine the best formulation. The experimental design began with a question on how calcium levels in the water used for the process might influence the physiology of the yeast in the batch. Could it be that increasing calcium ion content altered the growth characteristics of the yeast and alcohol content of the product? Would hard water result in a fundamentally different product than that produced in soft or distilled water?
Notes from research meetings and designs for experiments decorate the white board in the senior research lab (shown above). The final design Dr. Benoit and Luke settled on centered on using production of cell clumps and measurement of alcohol content as ways of monitoring physiological differences between batches. As yeast grow in a broth culture, they can form clumps of cells that fall out of suspension as nutrients are exhausted and the growth period comes to a close. This flocculation of yeast cells and cell debris is a necessary step to move from the cloudy active culture to a clear final (and commercially appealing) product. Could calcium concentration alter the dynamics of growth and flocculation?
After completing a variety of experiments this spring, the answer seems to be “yes”. Luke tells me that batches made with distilled/RO water averaged clumps of 17 cells (as measured microscopically using a hemacytometer), while batches made with added calcium chloride averaged clumps of 55 cells. In addition to having larger clumps, calcium enriched batches also produced less alcohol (as measured using a hydrometer). Luke is currently in the analysis process – explaining why clumps are larger and why larger clumps mean less alcohol produced – as he takes these findings and turns them into the final project poster for his capstone experience.
Luke’s project is a great example of the flexibility we provide our students to pursue senior projects in line with their interests and future plans. Luke’s future seems destined to be quite different from the one envisioned when he began his college life as a Biomedical Science major intent on dental school. However, the knowledge and skills and abilities gained in the BIMS program have application to his future and have equipped him well to succeed in his graduate work at UC-Davis.
McMurry’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.