NEWS & EVENTS

Dordt College News

New microbiology lab opens

May 14, 2010

"This lab is as nice as any lab I’ve worked in before,” says Dr. Tony Jelsma, the chair of Dordt’s biology department.

Jelsma, who has done post-doctoral research at labs in England and Canada, is referring to the recently completed microbiology lab on the first floor of the science building.

He’s excited about the opportunities it will give students to do research in a working lab.

The new space is the result of creative collaboration by Dordt College faculty and staff. Because the labs in the science building are primarily classroom labs, professors and majors who wanted to do their own research have had to set up outside of class time.

“It was hard to set things up and then have to put everything away. It’s not really a lab if things aren’t there when you need them,” says Jelsma. The new microbiology lab provides enough space so that equipment remains readily available. 

Last year Jelsma and Dr. Delmar Vander Zee inventoried spaces in the building and agreed that several smaller rooms were no longer being used well. A small herbarium was moved elsewhere; a dark room, a small rarely-used prep room, and a non-functioning electron microscope room were dismantled. These areas have now been transformed into the new lab.  During a campus open house for the new microbiology lab, studetns like Senior Theo Mobach described the new opportunities the lab gives for student research.

Dordt’s maintenance crew knocked down the walls of these four rooms last summer, but because they had to get the classroom building renovation done by August, they put off the finishing touches. Over Christmas break, maintenance staff turned their focus to the lab, even working on weekends to complete it by the beginning of the spring semester.

The long hours paid off.

“Maintenance did a fantastic job. It’s a nice bright room, and even though it is a science lab, it’s a fun place to be,” says Jelsma. Their work paid off in another way too. The project was completed on a very low budget, reusing cabinets and desks taken from the classroom building during its renovation.

The room is being used for Jelsma’s molecular biology course and by upper level students, particularly students working on senior projects. The combination of increased convenience and advanced technology is making it possible for students to do more complex research. A new piece of molecular biology equipment housed in the laboratory is a DNA Analysis System, which can perform DNA sequencing, DNA fingerprinting, and other molecular biology techniques. The laboratory is also equipped with incubators, thermal cyclers, electrophoresis equipment, and a high speed refrigerated centrifuge. A separate room houses cell culture incubators and a laminar flow hood for mammalian cell culture. Current projects being carried out in the new lab range from a study of genetic diversity in prairie plants to the detection of viruses in pig saliva. 

“There’s a synergy in the lab, with students working together and helping each other. Any day of the week you’ll see people here working,” says senior Josh Bowers, who did a biotechnology internship at InnoVac biotechnology firm during the fall semester. This semester he is using Dordt’s DNA sequencing equipment to continue research on the production of vaccine antigens for dogs.

Jelsma hopes the new lab will promote the communal aspect of science.

“If you have students in little rooms, they’re not working with each other. Science needs to be done by bouncing ideas off people, working with others, and, in our Christian environment, helping others as much as you can. That also makes science a lot more fun.”

Research apprenticeships

The new facility has made it possible for the department to begin research apprenticeships. Senior research students have younger students helping them and learning from them.

“It counts as a one-credit course for the ‘apprentice.’ They get to learn the techniques and follow along, which is helping develop a research culture,” notes Dr. Tony Jelsma.


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