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College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics receives two grants totaling $150K

ISSUED: 18 May 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Shepherd University has received Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research grants totaling nearly $150,000 from the Science and Research Council, a division of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, for two different projects.

Dr. Laura Robertson, associate professor of biology, received a $20,000 instrumentation grant that, combined with money raised through the Shepherd University Foundation for the Paul Saab Memorial Lab, allowed her to purchase a $45,000 GEN III Microstation System from Biolog, with a database to allow identification of aerobic gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria. She also purchased an additional database for the identification of filamentous fungi.

The instrumentation grant program purchases scientific equipment for advanced undergraduate laboratories to help encourage undergraduate students in West Virginia to continue careers in science, mathematics, and engineering.

Robertson said the GEN III Microstation is a semiautomated system that uses multiplexed biochemical tests in a 96-well format to facilitate identification of bacteria and fungi.

“Because bacteria and many fungi are microscopic and generally look very similar between species, we use either DNA sequencing or a series of biochemical tests and specific stains to identify these organisms,” she said.

Robertson plans to use this equipment in her Microbiology and Mycology courses. She said in Microbiology, students learn to perform several staining protocols and biochemical assays in lab, and she plans to develop a new laboratory exercise where students will use the Microstation III to identify an unknown species. In Mycology, students identify a wild-collected fungus by appearance using a field guide, and then by DNA-barcode sequencing. Robertson will expand this course project to include identification by biochemical characteristics using the Microstation III.

“It’s very exciting to add this new capability to the Microbiology lab,” Robertson said. “I look forward to developing new laboratory activities to introduce this technique to our students. Thank you to the Science and Research Council, the Shepherd University Foundation, and everyone who contributed to the Paul Saab Memorial Fund for making this opportunity possible.”

The Science and Research Council also renewed a three-year $129,000 Summer/Semester Research Experiences grant to support 10 students each year with a stipend to work in the laboratory of Shepherd faculty mentors and provide travel money to attend meetings to present their work. This is the fourth time in a row that Shepherd has received this grant. Dr. Robert Warburton, dean, College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, is principal investigator, and Dr. Colleen Nolan, professor of biology, is co-principal investigator, for the grant, which is titled “Shepherd Opportunity to Attract Research Students IV (SOARS IV).”

“I am very grateful to the folks at the Science and Research Council for their continued support of our students by giving them the opportunity to carry out their capstone research working with our faculty in the College of STEM,” Warburton said.

Warburton said due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the research projects the students will work on had to be postponed and the three-year grant was given a one-year extension through 2023.

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