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Science Department lands major grants

By Brigitta Gough
On April 18, 2018

Three Castleton University professors received $250,000 in grant funding from the Vermont Genetics Network to continue their research in the upcoming year.

Preston Garcia and Christine Palmer are professors in the natural sciences and Greg Engel is a professor in the psychological sciences.

This is the greatest number of professors awarded the VGN grants in one year, said natural sciences chair Tim Grover.

VGN awards two different types of research funding each year, the Pilot Grant of $25,000 and the Project Grant of $75,000. Engel received the Pilot Grant and Palmer and Garcia received Project Grants.

All will allow them to continue research projects alongside up to three research students each.

Garcia researches the genetics of bacteria that infects a plant called Sinorhizobium meliloti and manipulates the genes to see how it affects how the central metabolism is controlled. Palmer studies the stomach contents of Katydids to understand how their genetics help them survive in Panama. And Engel’s research looks at how genetics determine responses to alcohol, using fruit flies.

“It takes a lot of effort to put together one of these grants and it’s gratifying to know that it actually succeeded,” Engel said.

Garcia received this grant last year as well, but that does not make it any less exciting for him.

“I’m excited now that I can offer my students a chance to come back again (this summer). That’s really why I write these grants, so I can have students in the lab,” Garcia said.

Each professor said they will have two to three research students who will now be able to get paid to conduct research over the summer.

Engel is still looking for one more student to help.

The grant money will allow the professors to purchase needed lab equipment and offer more opportunities to their research students, such as going to conferences or the opportunity to do field research.

Palmer said she was psyched to receive the grant because of the opportunities it would give her students.

“Honestly the reason I was the most excited is to be able to take them to Panama,” Palmer said.

This is the first time Palmer’s research students will be able to go with her to Panama to collect research in the field and they are excited.

“To be able to get paid for it and to get to go to Panama, it’s so cool that we get the opportunity to do that,” research student Angela Golding said.

“They’ve been doing research in the lab on the molecular side but they haven’t gotten to see where the insects come from. It’s really different when you stand in the middle of a tropical rainforest,” Palmer said.

Her other research student, Cassidy Yrsha, is excited for how it has prepared her for her future.

“As a junior, I’m considering grad school and the thing that I’m looking forward to is that I already have great lab experience,” she said.

Garcia’s research students are glad they will get to continue this research over the summer as well.

“I was really excited when I heard Dr. Garcia got the grant for this summer. I loved our research last year and I loved the group,” sophomore Bre Babiarz said.

“Employers look for the experience and this is a very, very good experience. This is what people do in labs. We’re doing real work, it’s really exciting and we all love it here,” sophomore David Harvey said.

One of Engel’s research students, sophomore Jessica Lisk, who just started working with him this semester, is looking forward to the research over the summer.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to do research and it’s really cool to work with fruit flies,” Lisk said.

Grover discussed how VGN will also give an extra $75,000 to the university on top the grants the professors will receive for research. The professors who received these grants will get 15 percent of that to promote their work and then the university will get the rest.

The grants will help attract students, Grover and students said.

“If students know and they are interested in science and that they have this opportunity that they might not have at other undergraduate colleges, I think it would definitely be attractive to them,” senior Ryan Duggan said.

Research student Megan Nadler feels that through the research she has done with Garcia she has learned a lot.

“Seeing our progress last year, the learning curve was insane. We went from being freshman students to knowing all these techniques and having a lot of advantages in our upper level classes,” she said.

To Grover, this elevates the level education students receive and how the university is perceived.

“It raises the prestige of the university, it brings much needed funds to the university, it provides opportunities for student and faculty research and it provides professional development opportunities for faculty,” Grover said.

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