State-of-the-art biology equipment at students' fingertips

State-of-the-art biology equipment at students' fingertips

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Students eager to get their hands on high-tech tools in preparation for medical school and careers in researching diseases, discovering cures and diagnosing treatments have it all at Briar Cliff University.

Using Briar Cliff’s state-of-the-art lab tools, students study living organisms at the molecular level and chemical reactions that regulate life.

"We have some of the most modern science equipment available at any undergraduate program in the nation."

-- Kelly Eder, assistant professor of biology

“We have some of the most modern science equipment available at any undergraduate program in the nation,” said Dr. Kelly Eder, assistant professor of biology. “A $130,000 grant for the Roy J. Carver Molecular Biology Lab on campus makes it possible for our students to apply these laboratory tools to study, research and gain valuable hands-on learning experiences,” Dr. Eder explained.

“With our new molecular biology lab, Briar Cliff biology majors will acquire relevant biomedical research skills, preparing them for medical school and a variety of careers in biomedical research,” she said. “As an additional benefit, my own research in the lab will focus on how infection affects maternal and fetal health by pursuing research projects that could lead to improved pregnancy outcomes,” said Dr. Eder. Prior to joining BCU, Dr. Eder was a research fellow at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“As a part of BCU’s Vision 2020, the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust grant represents one of the building blocks in our ambitious plan to reimagine health science education,” said Beverly A. Wharton, president.

What follows is a snapshot of BCU’s latest lab tools preparing the next generations of professionals in health and biomedical sciences ...


Students of Dr. Eder and Dr. Paul Weber, professor of chemistry, are using the High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) System to identify and research antioxidants levels, like the native prairie turnips, which may benefit pregnant women fighting infections. Students also will present their research at area and national conferences.

These experiences also enable students to pursue successful careers in industry labs with HPLC systems, such as Cargill, an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services located in Blair, Neb., where 2013 Briar Cliff graduate Bryce Reinders is a chemist.

“The new lab equipment has been extremely helpful in my education as a senior biology student,” said BCU senior Rosita Marquez, Sioux City. “I am learning how the instruments work and how to use their applications for diagnoses and treatments of diseases and other uses.”


“Sophisticated crime labs often have a GC/MS to identify crime scene materials."

-- Dr. Paul Weber, professor of chemistry

BCU also has a Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry System (GC/MS). Thanks to a Title III grant for funding the GC/MS, students can detect everything from scents of candies to drugs on U.S. paper currency.

“Sophisticated crime labs often have a GC/MS, as seen on the TV series CSI, to identify crime scene materials,” noted Dr. Weber. “This instrumentation separates the compound of a mixture in the GC, and then in the MS, the separated molecules are blasted and broken apart. The result tells you the type and quantity of the substance.”


Newly obtained through a Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust Grant, BCU’s M2 SpectraMax Flourometer measures the fluorescence or light absorbance of biological samples. “With the Flourometer, Briar Cliff students can detect changes in cell signaling by measuring the amount of fluorescence emitted from a single cell,” explained Dr. Eder.

In BCU biology, chemistry and biochemistry classes and labs, students work with this tool to develop hypotheses, design experiments and interpret scientific results. This entire process is shaping students as scientific thinkers.

Another high-tech instrument in BCU’s lab tool chest is the Eco Real-Time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction System to measure gene expressions in the heart and brain.

"Access to the latest lab instruments is allowing me to practice the techniques and protocols I will encounter in graduate schools."

— Elizabeth Mangan, biology major

And then, there’s the Thermacycler, “a fancy oven that can amplify one copy of DNA to one million copies of DNA,” said Dr. Eder. “It allows scientists to determine the sequence of a gene that can make a person more susceptible to cancer.”

Briar Cliff student researchers grow living cells using CO2 Incubators and view them with the Inverted Fluorescence Microscope to investigate the effects of environmental changes on cell growth and development. Acquiring cell culture skills enables them to pursue jobs at biomedical research labs and pharmaceutical companies.

“Access to the latest lab instruments is allowing me to practice the techniques and protocols I will encounter in graduate schools at a large university,” said biology major Elizabeth Mangan, Sioux City. “I am using these tools to advance my scientific thinking as I learn the theories behind lab experiments, how to set up experiments and how to interpret data.”


Typically found in large research institutions, the lab-on-a-chip Bioanalyzer, acquired through a government grant, is rarely found as an instructional tool in undergraduate labs. With lab-on-a-chip technology, Briar Cliff students and faculty conduct DNA, RNA and protein analysis in a scaled down manner.

“Scaling down instrumentation is a growing trend as analysis on a chip will allow physicians to perform tests, such as examining DNA right in the medical office without sending samples to outside labs,” noted Dr. Weber. “Small-scale testing also permits diagnosis and treatment in more remote locations and under-developed regions of the world.”

The Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectrometer identifies and studies chemicals with infrared spectroscopy to help crime labs quickly identify if seized samples are drugs or harmless substances.

Made possible by a grant from the Pittsburgh Conference, the UV-Visible Spectrophotometer measures the absorption of ultraviolet and visible light by samples to study materials, especially transition metals and organic compounds. Students in Dr. Ted Bryan’s general chemistry lab have used this type of instrument to determine nitrate levels in Missouri River water samples.


The University’s heavy emphasis on laboratory experiences ensures students will receive solid career preparation while gaining technical expertise and developing critical thinking skills.

Employment of biochemists is projected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations by the year 2020. The need for more biochemists stems from the demand for new drugs and procedures for diagnoses, preventions and treatments of diseases, including AIDS, cancer, heart disease and arthritis.

Graduates with Bachelor of Science degrees in biochemistry are recruited for good jobs as laboratory and research technicians and sales-related positions in marketing and research for laboratories and pharmaceutical companies.

Tags: Biology, Academics, Chemistry, CHCI, BCU