Two College of Public Health (COPH) faculty members mentored students during the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Joseph Fauver, PhD and Catherine Pratt, MS. mentored students participating in SURP. The program gives graduate students the opportunity to join research teams and see firsthand the broad spectrum of research activities taking place at UNMC.
Pratt led Gabrielle (Gabby) Estep, a Northwest Missouri State University student majoring in science with an emphasis in biochemistry, and Mohammad Salimi, a University of Nebraska at Omaha student majoring in molecular and biomedical biology with a minor in humanities. medical and chemistry.
Gabby’s research focused on collecting and testing samples from wastewater treatment plants in Nebraska to see if various viruses were present.
“I really like environmental chemistry, so the wastewater project really piqued my interest. I think it’s interesting to combine the chemistry of things with the biological things as well,” said Gabby.
Mohammad spent his summer testing four different nucleic acid extraction kits and how they performed in different environments.
“I had a tube containing a mixture of viruses and I was extracting the viruses. Then I would run a PCR to see which would be more effective and compare how each works in different environments and how each has different conditions and rules,” Mohammad said.
Pratt said Gabby and Mohammad did a great job this summer.
“I loved having them in the lab, they immediately settled into the team. It was great to have some new personalities with so many questions,” she said.
“I really like it when I see students grow. It is very satisfying to see them go from minimal experience in the lab to starting to manage their day-to-day work.”
However, a project did not have a smooth start, but Dr. Pratt said it was a great learning experience.
“One project had many failures at the beginning (due to the methods, not the student!). In a way, I’m glad it did, as one of the most important things to learn in the lab is to fail – because you’re going to happen a lot! The student persevered, the project succeeded, and we gained some super interesting data.”
Fauver mentored Ethan Sajko, a University of Nebraska at Lincoln student majoring in sociology with minors in biology, mathematics and psychology.
Ethan’s research focused on sequencing the genetic information of the bourbon virus, which is found in ticks.
“I’ve also created a pipeline for using that genetic information to create an evolutionary tree to track how the bourbon virus is changing in ticks,” Ethan said.
Ethan said his research is similar to how the different variants and strains of COVID-19 are tracked.
“I was excited about this topic because it allowed me to explore a technique called next-generation sequencing and genomic epidemiology. It’s a new ‘progressive’ kind of thing. COVID really popularized it. I think it will be quite fundamental to public health and epidemiology in the future.”
To learn more about SURP, click here.
If you’re thinking about attending a SURP in the future, Pratt says do it!
“It’s a great opportunity to get some research experience. You get an income for the summer and find out what it’s really like to work in a research team. You may be sure you want to work in research, or you may not be sure at all – but getting this experience can help clarify whether it’s the career for you (or not!).