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Sciences students contribute to NSF grant research

August 12, 2013

KOKOMO, Ind. — When Joseph Logan applies to graduate programs, not only will he know what a high resolution melt analysis is, he will be among the few who have actually performed one.

Sciences students contribute to NSF grant researchJoseph Logan holds a tray of grasses.Logan, a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (M.A.L.S.) student at Indiana University Kokomo, gained the experience as a research assistant to T.J. Sullivan, assistant professor of molecular ecology. Sullivan is studying certain grasses and the fungi that grow in them, potentially impacting cattle production, with a four-year National Science Foundation grant.

Hands-on research is a key element of earning a degree from the School of Sciences, both for graduate and undergraduate students. Those in the Bachelor of Science programs in biology, chemistry, and biochemistry, must earn at least three credits in research.

Dean Christian Chauret said both students and faculty benefit from working together.

"This kind of out-of-classroom learning looks good on a resumé for future jobs, graduate work, and professional schools," he said, "Students gain tremendous experience through this one-on-one collaboration with a faculty member. If the data is solid, the student can present at a conference, and many of them have also published in research journals with their faculty mentors."

Chauret added that students who participate in research are better prepared and are highly likely to graduate. Faculty can expand their research potential and scope by working with students.

Logan, who earned his bachelor's degree in biology from IU Kokomo in 2012, has worked with Sullivan for more than a year. His role is genotyping the variations of fungus living in the grasses, using the high resolution melt analysis, a relatively new technology. Sullivan said it is quicker and more cost-effective than previous technology, allowing him to study more samples.

"This puts us ahead of the curve in research," he said. "As Joe continues his education, his use of a newer technology will make him stand out. This is something a lot of people don't know about yet. Not only does he know what this technology is, he has experience using it."

Logan, from Logansport, appreciates the chance to gain this experience.

"I enjoy knowing I've contributed to something," he said. "It has helped me develop my ability to analyze what is happening, and to figure out a solution."

Three undergraduate students have joined Sullivan's research team, and he anticipates more interest as students work to meet their research requirements.

"You have a better chance of having these opportunities at a smaller school like IU Kokomo, where you aren't competing with as many students for research assistantships," he said.

Sullivan is studying the relationship between particular toxic and non-toxic grasses, trying to determine why fungus that lives in some grasses can be toxic to livestock, but not in others. This is an issue that impacts cattle in the United States, and sheep in New Zealand.

"There is a lot of interest in this," Logan said. "If we can come up with a solution for this problem, people can save hundreds of millions of dollars."

The losses are incurred in treating sick animals, or when livestock eats just enough to survive, and don't gain weight as they should. They sometimes must bring in other feed to replace the grass, which also results in lost revenue.

Logan plans to either attend dental school or begin a Ph.D. program in genetics after completing his master's degree.

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 09/09/2014