Find out how a research team supports student training at all stages and uses ergonomic pipettes to protect their health
Dr. Paul Rowley uses the Ovation® pipettes to reduce shoulder and neck fatigue [image: rowleylab.com]
Principal investigators have a lot of work to do to establish research agendas within their lab, train their group, and create a supportive work environment and culture. This includes setting up equipment and working methods that protect the health of laboratory members.
In this article, new Principal Investigator and Associate Professor at the University of Idaho, Dr. Paul Rowley, speaks to SelectScience® about his research on yeast-produced toxins, the education and training philosophy of his research group, and how he supports member health with Ergonomic Ovation® Pipettes from VistaLab™ Technologies.
Foster learning and teaching
“We work a lot with yeasts and viruses, both mammalian and microbial,” Rowley says of his team’s work. “I focus on examining yeast viruses and toxins – on Saccharomyces cerevisiaebaker’s and brewer’s yeast, and study the viruses that infect this organism, as well as the ability of viruses to stimulate the production of toxins in yeasts.
“Often the toxins produced are due to the viral infection,” says Rowley. “We don’t know much about viruses or toxins, so it’s a very open field. I’m starting to understand a little more about the types of toxins and how we can potentially use them to fight agricultural and human diseases. We also have a lot of fun working with undergraduates to ask questions about the fundamentals of these molecules and viruses.
Rowley’s group takes the responsibility of training the next generation of scientists seriously with a number of undergraduate and graduate students learning and working in the lab. “Over the past six years, I’ve had about 47 undergraduate students in my lab,” Rowley attests.
Rowley’s educational support goes beyond that at the university level. As he explains, “I just received a career award from the National Science Foundation, which is a prestigious award for early-career teachers. This grant is all about public awareness. To get high school and undergraduate students out and about isolating yeast from the environment, from a range of sources such as tree bark, fruits and insects which also harbor lots of yeast . So we’re going to have this kind of citizen science project where they collect all these things.
“Once we have the yeast, we will investigate whether or not these different yeasts produce different toxins,” Rowley continues. “Then we can use these toxins to understand how certain cellular processes work in yeast. If we can understand how these toxins cause changes in yeast cell physiology, we can hopefully apply this knowledge to higher organisms and how these toxins affect many different animals and cell types. There is a mixture of discovering new toxins, new viruses and new yeasts, as well as fundamentals.
“It ranges from graduate and postdoctoral students all the way to high school students. So a really good diverse mix of people to do this job,” says Rowley. “I love citizen science projects where people can actually participate and make a meaningful contribution. It’s not just an engagement project.
Work comfortably with Ovation® pipettes
Training the next generation of scientists also means providing them with laboratory equipment that could better suit them or protect their health. When performing repetitive motions – in the case of Rowley’s lab, regular pipetting – problems can arise.
Honestly, it felt like night and day… The neck pain, the shoulder pain, it pretty much went away.
Dr Paul Rowley
University of Idaho
Early in his career, Rowley experienced discomfort when using pipettes: “When I was a postdoc, I worked a lot on the bench. And I started noticing this shoulder tension and neck pain. In Aberdeen when I was a student, we also had a student who had carpal tunnel, and I remember these pipettes sitting on the bench that had this weird design.
When it came to starting her own lab, Rowley decided to find out more. He discovers the Ovation® pipettes from VistaLab™ Technologies. He was able to test them before purchase to see if they made a difference, and, as Rowley says, “Honestly, it felt like night and day. It was really a game-changer for me in terms of how I felt when I was on the bench. The neck pain, the shoulder pain, it’s pretty much gone. I really appreciated the opportunity to try and see if it was good for me.
The upright position and angle when holding pipettes is a key factor for Rowley, as he elaborates, “It’s not lying on the bench, it’s sitting on the bench. So you don’t have to dig underneath to grab it, and it’s less likely to be knocked over. The overall design and the ability to pipet with your arms at a right angle rather than straight up with your hand over your shoulder – for me this is by far the best feature.
“My main reason for researching a new type of pipette was my own health,” Rowley continues. “And then I thought, ‘Well, if it affects me that much, then when I start my new lab, I’m going to make sure I have that brand of pipettes. Because they just made such a difference for me, I know it makes a difference for my students. I’ve had students who left my lab and had to use regular pipettes to complain. They say, ‘Wow, we really appreciate the Ovations now that we’ve left them behind.’ They now go to another lab and have to use regular pipettes and they notice the difference.