Evenson began looking into grants after a lack of necessary equipment stalled a project she had been working on. Dawne Page, Ph.D., PLNU immunology professor and principal investigator on the grant, suggested that Evenson write the NSF grant for credit, and suddenly a failed research effort blossomed into an opportunity to try something that had never been attempted at PLNU"” to have an undergraduate senior become the primary author on a major grant.
"That's what made it unique," said Evenson. "Normally, that's not undergraduate work."
Previously, students had to travel to the University of California, San Diego, to use the equipment proposed for purchase, including a fluorescence microscope, a real-time PCR and a flow cytometer.
"The whole idea "¦ is to get some major pieces of equipment that we can use for both research and for some innovative teaching," said Page.
Page added that the grant will further the biology department's efforts toward a new style of teaching that encourages scientific endeavors that do not necessarily have a defined result.
Of the three pieces, the one most useful for Page and Evenson is the fluorescence microscope. Page explained that research in her lab focuses on zebrafish that are only about an inch long.
"We're working with a line of zebrafish where their thymus organ glows green," Page said, adding that in order to remove the tiny gland, they need the microscope. The stereoscope will also enable her lab to work with other fluorescent populations of cells and organs in a way that was previously impossible.
The real-time PCR and flow cytometer are more relevant for the labs of David Cummings, Ph.D., and Kerry Fulcher, Ph.D., who also contributed to the grant-writing effort.
For the researcher interested in comparing different types of cells, the real-time PCR machine is the instrument of choice. It quantitatively determines the difference between how much of a gene is expressed, for example, in liver cells as compared to brain cells.
To investigate proteins in the cell, the flow cytometer is used. The most expensive instrument of the three, researchers use the cytometer to look at different populations of cells to find out what kinds of proteins are expressed, and to look at cells independently to determine the type of protein attached.
All five individuals who worked on the grant "” Evenson, Page, Fulcher, Cummings and Hadley Wood "” supported the idea that the equipment would facilitate team learning, which is a key component to successful research-based labs.
"Our whole goal here is to really motivate students to pursue careers in science," Page said. "If you have outdated equipment, it is really hard to do that."
Evenson added that a more engaging style of laboratory teaching departs from the boring and predictable and encourages students to learn.
"You don't know the outcome [of a project] when you walk into [class]," she said.
Evenson graduated from PLNU last spring.