Two faculty members from the College of Public Health (COPH) mentored students during the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Joseph Fauver, PhD and Catherine Pratt, MS. guided students participating in SURP. The program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to join research groups and see firsthand the broad spectrum of research activity going on at the UNMC.
Pratt mentored Gabrielle (Gabby) Estep, a graduate science graduate student at Northwest Missouri State University with an emphasis in biochemistry, and Mohammad Salimi, a University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate student in molecular and biomedical biology with a minor in medical and chemical humanity.
Gabby’s research focused on collecting and testing samples from sewage 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 biological things as well, ”said Gabby.
Mohammad spent his summer testing four different nucleic acid extraction kits and how they worked in different contexts.
“I had a test tube containing a mix of viruses and I was extracting the viruses. Then I would run a PCR to see which would be the most effective and compare how each works in different environments and how each has different conditions and rules, “said Mohammad.
Pratt said both Gabby and Mohammad did a great job this summer.
“I liked having them in the laboratory, they immediately joined the team. It was great to have new personalities with so many questions, “she said.
“I really enjoy seeing students grow. Seeing them go from having minimal lab experience at the beginning to managing their daily work in the end is very rewarding. “
However, one project didn’t start well, but Dr. Pratt said it was a great learning experience.
“A project had a lot of failures in the beginning (because of the methods, not the student!). In a way, I’m glad it happened, as one of the most important things to learn in the lab is to fail, because a lot will happen! The student persevered, the project was successful and we got super interesting data ”.
Fauver mentored Ethan Sajko, a University of Nebraska at Lincoln graduate student 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 also created a pipeline to use 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 variants and different strains are tracked with COVID-19.
“I was excited about the subject because it allowed me to explore a technique called next-generation sequencing and genomic epidemiology. It’s kind of a new “cutting edge” thing. COVID really made it popular. I think it will be quite fundamental for public health and epidemiology in the future. “
To learn more about SURP, click here.
If you are thinking of joining a SURP in the future, Pratt says do it!
“It’s a great opportunity to get some research experience. Get a salary for the summer and find out what it’s really like to work in a research group. You may be sure you want to work in research or not at all sure, but getting that experience can help clarify if it’s the right career for you (or not!). “