Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, and MIT – according to the “Top American Research Universities 2010 Annual Report,” these are the prestigious names of the top five research institutions in America as of 2009.
Although the University of Portland is not considered a research intense institution, the professors at the Biology Department still make an effort to conduct their own research with what they are given.
Both Dr. Jeff Brown and Dr. Amelia Ahern-Rindell say supplies, equipment, lab space, and reagents are hard to come by, and finding the time to conduct the research while lecturing classes, creating and giving exams, offering office hours, and maintaining their personal lives make researching at University of Portland challenging.
However, a small institution does have its perks.
Where professors from higher institutions may be focused on their research solely to gain fame and fortune, Dr. Brown says his motivation stems from his curiosity in molecular research and drive to understand how organisms work. “That’s what it all comes down to,” he said.
Dr. Brown is currently conducting research in Developmental Biology; specifically to figure out how cells communicate with one another to determine how they should form and develop during the embryotic stage of life formation.
“I can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” he said. “If I ever won the lotto, I would get a new science building where we would have a designated lab space [and] support staff for paper pushing… so my students and I could spend more time getting research done.”
Dr. Brown says it is also the moment when a students’ “light bulb” turns on, their eyes light up, and they get excited about their topics and experiments.
Like Dr. Brown, Dr. Ahern-Rindell enjoys teaching, but her passion to find a cure for Neurological Degeneration is based on a more personal experience than just curiosity alone.
She explained that when she was in High School, she babysat for a family with three children that were diagnosed with Neurological Degeneration. It is a disease that is hereditary, fatal, and incurable. It has been about twenty years since she first started delving into the world of genetics and she continues to move forward to hopefully finding a cure.
Dr. Ahern-Rindell said they are taking baby steps. For now, their immediate goal is to better understand genes (particularly in sheep) at a molecular and cellular level to bring them one step closer to understanding the behavior of genes in humans.
For now, she urges parents to test their infants so that they can catch the signs early on and slow its progression.
“This is something I’d like to change,” she said, “To find cures for diseases like this.”