New Laboratory Equals Success for Students and Faculty: An Interview with Prof. Susie Boydston-White

Jan M. Stahl, English

BMCC’s new Forensics and Biotechnology Laboratory, room N644, offers a site for exciting and interesting scientific research and collaborations between students and faculty. Prof. Jan Stahl sat down with Prof. Susie Boydston-White, Science, and discussed her involvement with the new lab.   

FACULTY FOCUS: Tell me about the new lab. Please explain where this lab started.

SUSIE BOYDSTON-WHITE: The lab has been active since the fall semester of 2012. The funds for its construction came out of a grant BMCC received to start a Forensics Major in the Science Department which allows students to complete the A.S. degree in Science for Forensics at BMCC and then transfer to the B.S. degree program in Forensic Science at John Jay College. New courses were created as part of the Forensics Major and much interest sprung up among students. The lab was created to give faculty-mentored students hands-on experience working with specialized equipment.

President Antonio Perez, Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, Sadie Bragg, and Vice President of Administration and Planning, Scott Anderson generously provided the Science Department with the space. Some of the instrumentation and equipment was purchased using the Forensics grant, some was existing equipment that had been purchased previously by BMCC, and some was previously purchased by CUNY Central. Faculty from the Science Department designed the lab.

Science Department Chairperson Joel Hernandez had the idea to take three classrooms and put them together to create one large lab. He submitted the original sketch. The bulk of the design of the Forensics and Biotechnology Laboratory was done by science department professor Matthew Geddis and me and we met with the architects responsible for the technical design and worked with them through the whole process. 

FACULTY FOCUS: What courses and programs is the lab used for?

SUSIE BOYDSTON-WHITE: The lab is multidisciplinary, so this makes for an efficiency of sharing instrumentation, equipment and ideas. It’s used for projects in physics, biology, and chemistry. In addition, students taking analytical chemistry courses (Quantitative Analysis) and Cell Biology can utilize equipment in the lab as part of their course. Students involved in the S-STEM program (for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors), and CSTEP (Collegiate Science and Technology Entry program) use the lab to work on individualized projects with faculty members who mentor students.

Students and faculty use the lab to work on Honor’s projects. Faculty from the Science Department find it extremely exciting that students can go into the lab, work on a project, and gain the experience and confidence to believe they truly can have a fulfilling career in science. So many of our talented Science faculty enjoy working with students on these projects.

FACULTY FOCUS:  Tell me some specifics about the work going on in the lab between faculty and students.

SUSIE BOYDSTON-WHITE: Prof. Aldofina Koroch works on projects with basil. Prof. Caterina Mata treats plants with chemical treatments and then measures the effects of those treatments on the rate of photosynthesis. Students working with Prof. Koroch and Prof. Mata use plants to learn about scientific measurements.

 

Prof. Abel Navarro is working with students to determine how different kinds of plant matter absorb dyes from solutions.

 

I’ve been working with a group of students to measure the length of time that it takes eukaryotic cells to divide, when they are ready to divide. Using instrumentation, we study cells that are in the eukaryotic cell cycle phase of interphase and focus on the patterns of molecules within cells that are progressing through the phases of cell division and what changes those molecules undergo during the process.

This is something I have published on in the past and will continue to study. My students benefit by gaining hands-on experience in taking scientific measurements -- a skill they could use to get a job as a lab technician. Scientists in research labs hire technicians that know the types of techniques that BMCC students are learning in our lab.

We hope that many of our students will be inspired to go on to four year colleges and pursue careers in science and forensic science. At BMCC our students are learning about biology and chemistry with instruments used in forensic labs and they are practicing the kinds of investigative thinking necessary for forensic investigations.   

FACULTY FOCUS: I understand this lab is state of the art. Can you explain how?

SUSIE BOYDSTON-WHITE: We have high-end precise instrumentation that is housed in separate rooms within the lab. In the Microscope Room, there’s a scanning electron microscope and a fluorescence microscope. The scanning electron microscope collects images of things that are too small to see well under an ordinary light microscope, such as grains of pollen. The fluorescence microscope collects images of fluorescent molecules. For example, by marking cellular structures with dyes that are fluorescent, we can use the microscope to visualize these structures within cells and tissues and to track their movements.

The Tissue Culture Room is where cells and tissues are grown in an incubator. The biosafety cabinet creates a sterile environment so we can manipulate cells and tissues, while keeping their living environment sterile. By working in the Tissue Culture Room, students learn the procedures of sterile tissue transfer techniques. This is a real skill that students can take with them if they seek employment as lab technicians and/or to a senior college to continue doing research. 

The Fish Room is where fish and worms are kept and studied. For example, some worms can be studied to understand neural processes that occur in higher organisms. They require a separate room so that the cycles of light and dark during the day can be controlled.

In the Imaging Room we have an infrared microscope and a Raman microscope. We use the infrared microscope to measures how molecules inside cells and tissues absorb certain wavelengths of light in the infrared range of the spectrum. The way that molecules absorb light changes as their composition and/or biochemical environment changes.

We use the Raman microscope to measure how light is scattered by molecules. Again, the pattern changes as the biochemistry inside cells and tissues changes. Our Raman microscope is the envy of some of our senior college colleagues, who send their students and postdoctoral research scientists with samples to our lab for scanning.

Thanks to the Forensics grant, we have three different lasers for our Raman microscope, increasing the wealth of information that we can learn from the scans. Typically Raman microscopes are equipped with only one laser.  

FACULTY FOCUS: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

SUSIE BOYDSTON-WHITE: Research activities are teaching activities and our students benefit from them. I and my fellow science department faculty are especially grateful to the BMCC Administration for being so supportive of faculty-mentored student research. Their support allows us to continue to mentor students and to have a facility to work on our own research interests at the same time.