What Student Research in a Moravian Lab Looks Like

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Chlebove

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Chlebove

Research at Moravian can take a number of forms. Some can seem simple, while others seem intimidatingly difficult.

However, each area of research comes with its own quirks.

Each has its good times, as well as troubling times. Plus, depending on departmental funding, the materials at your disposal can either be extensively helpful or detrimental to your progress due to being out of date. 

I took on an independent research opportunity in the chemistry department. 

For a bit of background information: my research involved the LamD peptide of the bacteria Lactobacillus plantarum. To anyone not oriented in science, that probably doesn’t mean a lot, so let me explain the bigger picture of this particular area.

When a bacteria enters our bodies, it will eventually need to replicate itself in order to survive. This eventually leads to small colonies of bacteria which can affect us.

Certain bacteria, known as gram positive bacteria, use peptides in a process called quorum sensing. Though that may sound complicated, its overall purpose is very simple. In a basic sense, a colony of bacteria will secrete a chemical signal that tells the rest of the colony to express certain genes at the same time.

In the bacteria that I focused on, a short sequence of chemicals called amino acids form the LamD peptide. This peptide is responsible for the process of quorum sensing, and the overall goal was to look at the effects of peptide modifications to this process.

Looking at something like this may not seem important to some, but the implications of modifying a peptide in a bacteria has an affect on the overall function of the process of quorum sensing. If one amino acid in the sequence is changed, the end result will not be the same as the original.

Theoretically, making specific modifications could reverse the overall result of quorum sensing, which would cause a bacterial population to stop expressing genes cooperatively.

With that said, I never looked at how the peptides eventually affected Lactobacillus plantarum. I was purely responsible for creating the modified peptides and purifying them.

There are a lot of benefits to independent research at Moravian, especially in the field of science.

For one, you are able to get experience in your field of study.

When people decide to start independent research is always different, but usually individuals will decide to start earlier rather than later. This is completely reasonable if you go to look at job descriptions that require you to at least have a year’s worth of experience.

In the sciences, labs consistently want to know that you have at least a year of experience doing labs that aren’t part of the class curriculum. If you do research under a professor, you will work on your own with their words as guidance, which is what the independent development labs want to see.

Along with experience, independent research allows you to hone in on what you want to do after graduating.

Perhaps you’ve thought about doing one particular thing after graduation. If you’re a science major, let’s say you’ve been wanting to do lab work all your life. However, once you get to do it all on your own left to the will of chemicals and equipment, you might find that it isn’t for you.

Or on the other hand, you could be completely captivated by the anticipation of your findings, whether or not they succeeded. 

Working with the equipment and materials in the chemistry department does have some drawbacks.

One of the biggest problems is material shortages. If there is a material that is used by multiple lab groups, the supply will run out within a week or two.

In the chemistry department, that material is liquid nitrogen.

Almost every lab needs it for some part of their research, and that excessive filling of containers causes the main supply to run out fast. Once it runs out, everyone’s research comes to a halt since they are unable to continue to more crucial steps that require the freezing of materials.

Plus, some essential equipment have programs as old as Windows 7 which allow them to operate. This leads to clunky operations and frequent malfunctions that hinder any analysis of results.

The important thing to keep in mind from my ramblings?

Think about independent research no matter what your major is. Professors are more than willing to take you onboard their projects if your GPA is at the required 2.5 minimum.