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Lone Star College-Montgomery students conduct next-level research

Algae research team
(left to right) Dr. Janeu Houston, Vasupradha Vasudevan and Lorna Brewer look at the algae they have stressed under a fluorescence microscope, made possible by a Lone Star College-Montgomery Chancellor’s Grant. Vasudevan has been chosen to present her research at the prestigious 2017 National Conference on Undergraduate Research and she has been awarded a grant from LSC-Montgomery’s newly formed Undergraduate Research Institute.

Community colleges are not normally known for their undergraduate research, but Lone Star College-Montgomery students are forging their own path. Five professors and one student have been awarded grants from LSC-Montgomery’s newly formed Undergraduate Research Institute (URI).
URI seeks to support the development of undergraduate research opportunities for LSC-Montgomery students in the Arts, Humanities, Sciences, and Social Sciences. The primary goal of the URI is to empower students to take an active role in developing and defining their educational experiences by collaborating with faculty to make original contributions to the academic conversation.
“Studies have shown that participation in research develops students’ problem-solving skills, communication and teamwork,” said Dr. Rebecca Riley, LSC-Montgomery president. “These are important skills needed in a job or when transferring to a university or college. It is our goal to give LSC-Montgomery students the experience they need to succeed, and research is proving to be an important tool to help our students put their best foot forward.”
Projects range from a community service learning-collaboration project to growing your food to using algae to make products that fight inflammation and help the immune system.
Vasupradha Vasudevan is conducting the later experiment. She is cracking algae open, inserting instructions to make proteins, then harvesting those proteins.

“I feel empowered at LSC-Montgomery,” said Vasudevan. “You can compare the research I am performing to human cells and how they respond, so what I am doing has direct applications to fighting diseases.”
For Vasudevan, the research is personal. “My younger brother died of cancer,” she said. “He was diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My family is everything to me, so it was a huge shock when he passed away. He was my only sibling. The experience made me think that whatever education I had so far was useless, I wanted to help find a cure.”

As part of the grant, Vasudevan works with Dr. Janeu Houston, a faculty advisor. “One of the molecules we are investigating helps boost the immune system and has been used to fight cancer or other inflammatory diseases,” said Dr. Houston. “Because of Vasupradha’s brother the focus of our research has always been increasing immunity and immune health. As a scientist, one of the things that is always at the forefront of our minds is the opportunity to work on something that could save somebody else from going through pain you have experienced.”

Vasudevan has been chosen to present her research at the prestigious 2017 National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Of the 4,000 abstracts submitted for the entire conference, only about 100 from across the country were chosen to present research in Molecular Biology. She was chosen to present two of these 25 research projects, and she is the only community college student to present in the category of Molecular Biology.
The biotechnology department is using Vasudevan’s project to spark more research for other students. Lorna Brewer is interning in the LSC-Montgomery biotechnology department this semester. Their projects have crossover.

“Lorna is going to grow algae under stress conditions to see if she can get it to produce more of the protein Vasupradha has engineered,” said Dr. Houston. “For Vasupradha and Lorna these projects are graduate level work. Big things are in store for them. Science is interdisciplinary and cross-curricular engagement is critical to the success of any research. We are thankful to be part of a college full of community. We are incredibly grateful to our administration and the support they give us in our research.”