Science

Wild Toads lab opens for research

Mar 09, 2016 Ninh Khuong

Labs give first- and second-year students weekly opportunity

While some students spend their Saturday mornings taking well-deserved breaks to recover from the week, others use this downtime to do volunteer research. Stephen Westcott, a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, offers first- and second-year science students the opportunity to do hands-on research by opening his lab weekly on Saturday mornings. These students receive assistance from upper-year chemistry students who are part of Westcott’s Wild Toads research group. On the morning of Feb. 20, the Argosy joined 15 student researchers, three upper-year volunteers and two lab supervisors for this Saturday research.

“We welcome everybody with a passion in chemistry,” said Diya Zhu, a fourth-year chemistry student who volunteers for the program.

Students who joined the research, along with the upper-year volunteers and Westcott. Ninh Khuong/Argosy
Students who joined the research, along with the upper-year volunteers and Westcott. Ninh Khuong/Argosy

The volunteer researchers contributed to an ongoing research project on antibiotic chemistry that began in September of last year. Most of the students said they joined because they wanted to gain more lab experience and see whether chemistry is what they want to pursue in the future.

“It’s a great extracurricular activity that involves what I’m also interested in doing in real life,” said Katherine Dunning, a second-year biochemistry student.

“I’d like to be a pharmacist, so it’s important to know what’s going in all these medications and know how it works, so you understand what it’s doing for the patients,” said Courtney Seymour, a second-year biology student.

The project involves synthesizing, characterizing and testing compounds derived from phenylpyrazole, an ingredient often used in antibiotics. The resulting compounds will be used as ligands, molecules which specially bind to an atom of metal, in complexes which have potential antibiotic, antituberculosis, antifungal and anticancer properties. These metal complexes have been used in the treatment of different diseases such as carcinomas, lymphomas, diabetes, anti-inflammatory and neurological disorders. For example, Cisplatin, a platinum-containing drug, is highly effective in treating various types of cancers.

“First we synthesize our ligands so we have a metal and a complex, supposedly. We have to take the [infrared spectroscopy] of our initial starting ligand and compare it to the [infrared spectroscopy] we get of our supposed vanadium metal complex,” said Lara Watanabe, a third-year chemistry student. “[The vanadium complex] might turn a pretty green colour.”

Chris Vogels, a supervisor of the Wild Toads lab, said the program has been running for over 18 years.

“It was Steve [Westcott]’s idea to open up our lab on the weekend to give students the opportunity to do research because their schedules are too busy during the week,” said Vogels.

Vogels said the greatest outcome has been that some students who attend the weekend sessions decide to pursue chemistry following the program.

“Researchers are explorers on the chemical front. You are finding new things. You are discovering. You are always searching for new products…what can they do, what are the possibilities,” said Vogels.