Science Labs Stay Lively During WinterSession
From daily feedings to recorded readings, from independent studies to full courses, students and faculty in the sciences — as well as their research subjects — remain active when classes aren't in session.
SUNY Brockport campus quickly empties as students head home after December final exams. But even throughout WinterSession, lab benches are staying warm.
Take a look at the winter work of the sciences, including fish research, a card game, new gadgets, and more.
Department of Biology
Senior Tyler Laird studies zebrafish under a microscope.
When you see senior Tyler Laird in the zebrafish lab on campus, you might not expect that he’s double majoring in exercise science and kinesiology.
Laird aspires to become a trauma surgeon, so he also minors in biology and chemistry. While zebrafish aren’t typically found in the emergency room, Laird feels his opportunity to engage in this independent research — especially during intersession — is preparing him well for medical school.
“Being in this lab allows me to do critical analysis and independent troubleshooting, which translates to working in the medical field,” he said.
Laird also performs exercise science-based research, and he played on the football team for most of his college career — until suffering a bicep injury in 2018.
“I shadowed orthopedic surgeons. One was trauma-based, and I fell in love with it,” said Laird. “My personal journey with an injury reinforced that getting the opportunity to directly help people who have traumatic and potentially life-threatening injuries is what I strive to do.”
Laird chose to pursue zebrafish research over winter break, when he had more time to dedicate to independent study. He and Associate Professor Adam Rich, along with other scientists around the country, are collaboratively researching the effects of feeding versus fasting on the development of young zebrafish.
“A research group published a paper that said if feeding is delayed from five to eight days, the animals develop perfectly well. Scientists that I know didn’t believe this work,” said Rich. “Five different laboratories decided to combine forces. Tyler’s role is testing gastrointestinal motility patterns, and he’s finding there are some definite differences [in fed vs. non-fed zebrafish].”
Rich said performing the experiment that takes place when zebrafish are eight days old would be nearly impossible for Laird during the semester, as it requires three to four consecutive hours.
“This study is ongoing, and it was nice during the winter because we could manipulate every aspect of the experiment,” said Laird. “I could keep strict deadlines when it came to feeding the fish and running assays (analyses).”
Laird will graduate in May, take the Medical College Admission Test, and hopes to attend a SUNY medical school.
Senior Tyler Laird and Associate Professor Adam Rich study zebrafish together in the lab.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
CHM 423 Standard and Modern Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Techniques
Professor Markus Hoffmann, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, teaches a course each WinterSession centered around nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, which Hoffmann said is "arguably the most utilized spectroscopic technique in chemical synthesis and imaging applications."
Hoffmann offers the course exclusively in the winter with the aim of providing students significant hands-on exposure to the NMR instrumentation and spectral data analysis.
"This intensive workshop is actually a unique opportunity for [students] to experience a typical scenario of a laboratory scientist who frequently needs to get acquainted with unfamiliar equipment," said Hoffmann.
Freshman Matthew Too enjoyed having the opportunity to fully immerse himself in a particular subject during his break from regularly scheduled classes.
"Because the course is during intersession, there are relatively few people taking it," said Too. "Almost everyone gets a turn at the NMR instrument every single day, which would be rare in a regular semester course."
Periodic Table Card Game
2019's designation by UNESCO as the "International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements" inspired Assistant Professor of Chemistry Robert LeSuer to have some fun with the elements.
"I was interested in how we could use game design to build a game around the periodic table, with the theme of discovering the elements," said LeSuer.
LeSuer spent some of the intersession creating a prototype for a collectible card game, which features element descriptions up for discovery by students. Each card will include a QR code that will connect students to more information about the featured element and an opportunity for them to identify it, allowing the game to function as a study tool.
LeSuer is submitting a grant to have the cards printed and to assemble a "working team of students who will continue the design, development, and deployment" of the game, he explained. Students will have the opportunity to design and create some of the cards' content, including the element artwork.
Instrumentation for CHM 313 Quantitative Chemical Analysis
Junior Calli Burnell and Assistant Professor Robert LeSuer test out new instrumentation in the chemistry lab.
WinterSession also provided a chance for LeSuer to focus on renovating one of the chemistry courses he teaches for non-majors.
Last year, he received a $12,000 grant from the School of Arts and Sciences dean's and former provost's offices to invest in instrumentation that will enable more active learning in the chemistry classroom.
LeSuer purchased seven Vernier Software & Technology kits, each of which contains an interface, spectrometer, and 10 sensors — enough for a 14-student lab section.
"These inexpensive hand-held sensors allow students to collect data and do some analysis of their experimental data right there in the lab," said LeSuer. According to him, students will eventually use the sensors to analyze experiments they design on their own.
Chemistry majors will eventually use this technology, too, and some of the labs may be introduced to general chemistry courses.
Department of Environmental Science and Ecology
Great Lakes Region Fish Research
Associate Professor Jacques Rinchard and graduate student Thomas Bianchi show off a fish in the aquaculture lab.
Sophomore Matthew Beers and junior Cameron Snell spent some of their winter break extracting lipids from fish tissue. Both environmental science majors, Snell concentrates in acquatic ecology/biology, while Beers is pursuing the combined acquatic and terrestrial ecology/biology track. A few seats away, graduate student Thomas Bianchi, who's studying environmental science and ecology, filtered out unwanted parts of their samples so the group could take a closer look at the fatty acids. Beers explained that examining the lipids of the fish helps them gain an understanding of their diet and how it can impact the other fish that surround them.
Beers, Bianchi, and Snell work in the aquaculture lab led by Associate Professor of Environmental Science Jacques Rinchard.
"We go into the field in the spring, summer, and fall to collect the samples. Now is a good time to process them in the lab, because we can't go into the field in this weather," said Rinchard.
The group is also assessing the vitamin levels of salmonine fish from Lake Ontario, made possible by a grant Rinchard received from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
"The students benefit, and I benefit. Their involvement and direct engagement in research are important for their résumés, and I wouldn't be able to process all the samples on my own," said Rinchard.
Tanks of various species of live fish are kept in the back of the lab. While no experiments using these fish are currently in process, they may be used for future study or during teaching.
"Someone needs to come in every day to feed the fish, remove any dead fish that may spread disease, clean the tanks, and be sure that there's aeration," said Rinchard. He shares this responsibility with graduate students, but he always takes the Christmas shift.
One sentiment each person in the lab echoed is a passion for fish. They say it's what makes the time and dedication worth it.
"I was offered a research opportunity from the Summer Undergraduate Research Program to do what we're doing right now over the summer. I decided to continue my work throughout last semester and into this break so I can gain more knowledge of the field, these fish, and the Finger Lakes they reside in. This is something I like doing; I'm learning something that's a lot more in depth and hands on here than I would in the classroom," said Beers. He suggests other students take the opportunity to perform independent research.
Snell comes to the lab every morning the College is open and even prepares samples in between classes during the semester.
"This is what I want to be doing in the future," he said. "It's a good step toward getting my foot in the door."
Junior Cameron Snell and sophomore Matthew Beers extract lipids from fish tissue together in the aquaculture lab.