Undergraduate research is what sets the Biology program at Saint Francis University apart from other colleges. SFU provides opportunities for students to engage in research alongside with faculty mentors as early as their Freshman year. At most colleges, students won’t do research until they are in a graduate program.
This semester, the Biology program has created a freshman introductory lab revolving around vertebrate cell culture. Cell culture is the process of maintaining cells outside of an organism in a culture medium, and then conducting experiments on the cells. Among the cells commonly used in the cell culture lab are HeLa cells, which came from Henrietta Lacks. Dr. Irene Wolf teaches the new BIOL 111 lab and says, “Many of our Biology majors are interested in medicine, veterinary science, or molecular biology, and thus are excited to learn cell culture techniques. This new lab not only exposes freshmen to invaluable skills, but also allows them to create their own experiments to study cellular stress in animal and human cells. Thus far, cell culture labs have served as a springboard for students to embark on their own independent research projects in fields related to cancer biology and wound recovery.”
The cell culture facility was created in the new Science Center. It allows space for teaching as well as research. Originally, most students using the lab were Junior and Senior biology majors enrolled in the Cell and Molecular Biology lab and independent research projects. Graduating seniors expressed feedback that they wished they had the opportunity to be involved in cell culture even earlier in their undergraduate studies. This was the motivation behind creating a new research lab option for freshmen. Students in Biology, Aquarium and Zoo Science, Medical Laboratory Science and Exercise Physiology majors are invited to to take the BIOL 111 Molecules, Cell, & Animal Physiology Lab: Cell Culture. “Our goal is to help students develop a mind for exploration so they can be successful in their careers,” says Biology Department Chair, Dr. Justin Merry.
Through exposure to research as an undergraduate, students such as Biology Freshman, Taylor Reed, can make informed decisions on what kind of career path she might want to take after graduation. Taylor says of her research experience, “Learning the techniques of cell culture and the immense work that goes into it is so amazing, and it’s an opportunity I know my peers at other schools are not getting to experience this early in their college careers. Being able to grow and perform my own experiment on my own cell line has encouraged me to continue further into the field of Biology.”