Tiny pathogens float within a small cylinder under a ventilation hood within the Pakpour Lab at UBC Okanagan. Using an innovative method to isolate pathogens, researchers are now turning their attention to diagnostic applications.
While the research sounds complicated, an important role was played by an undergraduate research assistant, James Fowler. Fowler, a NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Assistant Award recipient, took a lead role in the inter-disciplinary project.
“James set up the novel technology and helped graduate students to start working on the technology,” explains Sepideh Pakpour, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and lead researcher on the project. “His background in engineering enabled him to seamlessly integrate into our group partnering with biochemists, biologists and micro-biologists – he was the glue that optimized the workflows as the research got more complicated.”
The research is focused on separating pathogenic organisms, or germs, from environmental samples without using existing filters or centrifugation. The innovative method is more accurate and faster than existing approaches. Not only are the organisms removed from the sample, but they are also detected and purified for further analysis.
“USRA played a big role in my success as a researcher, as the funding allowed me to work full-time on this project and truly explore what research is all about,” says Fowler. “USRA led to me working on several other projects with Dr. Pakpour and expand upon my research interests.”
Pakpour says the first thing she tells every student who joins her inter-disciplinary team is that they should expect to take a leading role in the research. “They have the power to decide and change the approaches within projects, and those are the same opportunities that an undergraduate or graduate researcher should have.”
The new method that Pakpour and Fowler worked on is currently being patented.
While Fowler has yet to commit to what’s next after graduation, he says he is leaning towards graduate research. “Playing a role in cutting-edge research is exciting, and after heading into the workforce, I am seriously consider graduate studies in a couple of years.”
For more information about NSERC USRA opportunities, connect with a School of Engineering Academic Services Advisor.