As part of several grant programs, PC students are being paid to conduct undergraduate research. The students are studying the levels of microplastics (plastic fragments) in a local water treatment facility to determine if a tiny microbe might aid in biodegrading the plastic particles.
According to recent studies, 140 million tons of plastic are produced every year, and 94 percent of tap water in the US contains microplastics. The World Health Organization recently reported that there is not enough evidence to conclude if microplastics pose risks to human health, but does affirm that microplastics are ubiquitous; being found in fresh and salt water, food, and even bottled water.
Through three National Science Foundation (NSF) funded grant programs, PC students receive financial support ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per semester to perform the research. Each semester, students and faculty conduct research in PC’s microbiology laboratory, collecting samples, establishing study protocols, and reporting on their findings.
Students say that the stipend is great, but it’s the research experience that is invaluable. Amanda Morrison, who graduates from PC in May, says that exploration has made her more confident in her capabilities and she knows that she wants a career in science.
PC freshman Lisa Cadrel said that her ‘aha’ moment was realizing that the research could help solve the global water contamination problem. “This experience is not only preparing me for a career in a STEM field, it is propelling me towards achieving my degree in ways far greater than I ever expected.”
Last spring, PC students won first place at the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science meeting in Yuma, Arizona with their research project. Each year, the Academy of Science hosts an interdisciplinary gathering to discuss science, mathematics and engineering. Faculty, graduate and undergraduate students present their research in all areas of science and mathematics during oral paper sessions or a combined poster session. The Phoenix College team knocked it out of the park – winning first place.
Roberto Martinez Jr. says “People are often surprised when they learn that PC has a research team. It is important for all science majors to be exposed to research opportunities because it really teaches us how to fail and make mistakes, which is a natural part of the scientific process and life in general. Working alongside my team members enhances cross-disciplinary skills as we learn from one another.”
PC faculty member and undergraduate research mentor Robin Cotter says that “Many of the STEM faculty at PC come from research backgrounds, so we know that helping our students make connections with industry and university partners is key to their success as they move along their career pathway. Through undergraduate research, we are empowering students to find creative solutions to the environmental issues we face. PC students are the next generation of scientists, engineers and healthcare providers and they are definitely up to the challenge.”
To learn more about our biology programs at Phoenix College, visit https://www.phoenixcollege.edu/academics/departments/biosciences.