New lab adds color to student research

By Justin Ranicar

image 3   This semester saw the introduction of a Scientific Imaging Facility to campus, found in Saint Edmund’s Hall, Room 301. Overseen by Professors Chant and Fabian-Fine, this lab space provides students with programs to visualize, evaluate, and process research findings at 10 stations, with two students per station. This makes a total capacity of up to 22 students.

      Other additions include the Zeiss Axiolmager, a high-tech microscope capable of extreme magnification through dyes attached to highlight specific proteins, in a process called immunofluorescence.

    Though it has only been open for a little over a month, reception has been positive, with students given independent access once they are properly trained by Chant or Fabian-Fine in working with the highly sensitive equipment.

    From the perspective of a student enrolled in BI 345, Developmental Biology, the chance to make “publisher-worthy images” has been exciting, said Patrick McAllister, ’18, who sees the professional implications of the new scientific imaging facility as a blessing, that he thinks more classes should take advantage of.

    Being self-taught on many research skills from earlier summer work, McAllister hopes the facility continues growing, enhancinging classes in the long-term.

    “Students (want) to learn how to use it,” he said.image1

    Some of the images McAllister has already used the area for, this semester, have centered on the process of gametogenesis in mammals’ sperm and egg haploid cells, which he also viewed through the microscope’s immunofluorescent setting.

    This was valuable at the time, he said, for lending visual aid to recent studies, allowing the class to see these important cellular and reproductive processes play out firsthand, as well as the subsequent stages of spermatogenesis (which creates sperm), and oogenesis (which creates eggs).

    “Too often are we confined to cartoonish figures that are not completely accurate or realistic views of the information we learn,” he said.

  Indeed, the professors are enthusiastic with how things have progressed, and look to further expand their reach, continuing to branch out to all science students.

  As part of the biology department, Professor Fabian-Fine recognizes the need for scientific studies to keep up with modern technologies.

  “The students that we have here … many of them move on to graduate school, and it is important that they’re getting exposed to what types of methods there are used out there,” she said. “What can we do now, in modern science?”

      Answering this requires these students, who are so motivated, to take advantage of space and resources provided in the imaging facility, even outside of classes, but demands they treat the equipment respectfully; thankfully, she says, they have done so admirably.

     Fabian-Fine admits this lab wouldn’t have been possible without efforts across different departments, the administration, and information technology (IT). Together, they had finished setup by the Friday before classes started, meeting their launch date of Jan. 16.

     Fabian-Fine sees the facility as a significant draw for science majors and prospective students seeking competitive research.

     “(It) gives them a very good foundation,” she said.

     Given the chemistry department’s staunch backing of this project, Professor Chant agrees on its merits, even if the microscopes aren’t used by her own students.

     Instead, they take these same programs and operating systems and use them to set common ground with one another, establishing a baseline for learning new materials.

     Being able to precisely examine what different chemical interactions entail, Chant says, is very useful in itself. She also appreciates the more “active approach” this area lets students take on their own, and acknowledges the facility’s educational value.

    “We are a smaller, undergraduate institution that has this ability to use technology you’d find in a research lab … to train you on how to correctly use it,” Chant said.