CISP grant enables biology-engineering collaboration
In today’s work world, specialty occupations are rarely so isolated that they don’t overlap with other areas of expertise. Researchers work with skilled editors; investigators require assistance from computer programmers; builders need drafters.
It’s that coordination that makes Elizabethtown College’s Collaborative Interdisciplinary Scholarship Program (CISP) so valuable. CISP grants provide funds to cross-department learning with students, faculty members and the College’s professional staff.
“It promotes good communication between departments,” said Diane Bridge, associate professor of biology, who noted that E-town is ahead of many other small colleges in faculty grants. In collaboration, she said, each student brings different strengths.
Bridge applied for a CISP grant, last year, after attending a summer workshop about incorporating more research into the classroom. Fluorescence microscopes were part of the plan.
It was a good experience to be given a project that went from drawing through to final.”
Fluorescence microscopes help students look for locations of particular molecules, such as proteins inside of cells, Bridge said. Fluorescence research is important for the pharmaceutical industry and biomedical research. “It also helps you understand how cells work.”
A regular microscope can’t pick up on fluorescence. The fluorescence microscope makes it possible to see molecules that have been marked with a fluorescent tag, such as the green fluorescent protein originally isolated from jellyfish.
Unfortunately, standard fluorescence microscopes, Bridge said, are costly. The College had just one. “When we used it for class projects, we all had to gather around it,” she said.
With that cost mind, Bridge coordinated with the Department of Engineering and Physics. They recruited a biology major and an engineering major to work together to convert conventional microscopes into fluorescence microscopes. By including students from both departments, Bridge thought, the students would get independent research experience, and the College could provide multiple fluorescent microscopes for classes.
A fluorescence microscope does exactly what it sounds like it would do, said Austin Reth, a junior mechanical engineering student. “It makes cells glow. The glow makes the cells easier to see.”
Though his future career won’t likely use microscopes, Reth was quick to volunteer for the program involving them. He was attracted to the opportunity to invent and design.
He and another student took off the microscope eyepiece and replaced it with a box designed to hold a light source and filter. They would transfer the part to a traditional microscope.
“They 3D printed it,” Bridge said. It took about 12 hours using spools of ABS plastic — acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a common thermoplastic polymer. It was heated and used to construct the new piece at 100th of an inch (0.010) per layer, said Reth. It would have taken longer, but, he said, “it was low density, like a honeycomb inside.”
In fall 2016, the project took off and, at the end of the academic year, the students were troubleshooting. Students will use the microscopes in spring 2018, and the classes will answer surveys about their use — ease and functionality.
“It was a good experience,” said Reth, “to be given a project that went from drawing through to final.”