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Health Sciences Undergrads Research Real Problems

Students Gain Hands-on Lab Experiences

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Exercise Physiology major Caroline Stark dons a motion detector suit with sensors that measures body motion.

By Karen Angelo

Caroline Stark never thought she’d be working in a laboratory solving real problems so early in her college experience. But she got to do just that this summer after completing her freshman year. 

“I worked on a study about the treatment course for children with cerebral palsy,” says Stark, an exercise physiology major who is participating in the university’s Co-op Scholar program. “Working with this caliber of research is more than I could have expected of my first-year college experience. I’ve learned new software, therapy techniques and how to get approved for research involving human participants, all which is extremely gratifying.” 

Under the direction of Exercise Physiology Asst. Prof. Winnie Wu, Stark and fellow student Kayla Chan measured muscle and brain activity to find out how much exercise is enough to be efficient, but not be detrimental, to people with cerebral palsy. 

“We used multiple electromyography sensors, as well as a robot and an EEG to detect muscle and brain activity,” says Chan. “Dr. Wu has been wonderful to work with because she understands that we are upcoming sophomores who aren't familiar with the equipment and procedures. She has guided us all along the way. I'm glad that I decided to come to UMass Lowell because the research co-op has been a great experience.” 

Investigating Antibiotic Resistance 

Clinical Laboratory Sciences major Kevin Twombly gained a deep understanding of how to conduct research using state-of-the-art equipment during his research co-op with adviser Asst. Prof. Susan He. Twombly investigated how certain strains of bacteria are affected by different antibiotics. 

“The research co-op was truly an outstanding learning experience,” says Twombly. “I was able to work hands-on with laboratory equipment and clinical bacterial isolates. I feel that having this research experience so early in my education is very beneficial and will set me apart. It was really exciting knowing that we were performing some of the same laboratory tests that clinical scientists do on a daily basis.” 

Twombly worked alongside co-op scholar Brandon Am to research the effects of garlic and ginger on the human gut microbiome. Since antibiotic resistance is a major problem, they studied whether these plant extracts could enhance the activity of certain antibiotics that have become less effective over the years. 

“We will continue to work on our proposal for the second research project over the rest of the summer, and hopefully, into our second year at UMass Lowell,” he says. 

The Co-op Scholar program places high-achieving students in positions both on and off campus. The students, who were offered spots in the program before they started their freshman year, earn money while getting professional experience in their chosen disciplines.