Laleh Boroujerdi-Rad

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

My mentor is Dr. Oladele Ogunseitan, of the School of Social Ecology, Department of Environmental Health, Science, and Policy. I am investigating the effects of caffeine on cnidarian bleaching, in concert with caffeine-degradation by microorganisms in natural water systems.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I became involved in research in Spring 2005 through my participation with the Interdisciplinary Summer Research Experience program. My research continued throughout the summer, supported by the ID SURE, Summer Undergraduate Research Program, and UROP fellowships. During Fall 2005 and Winter 2006, I enrolled in Social Ecology 199 and received another UROP fellowship to continue my project.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Research has not only taught me valuable lab skills, which I could not have learned in the classroom, it has reinforced what I have learned in biology and chemistry classes. For example, the theory behind protein gel electrophoresis was covered as part of my Biochemistry class while I was learning how to use this technique in the lab.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

During July and August 2005, I began an independent project designed to prove that caffeine is not degraded in saltwater. I took samples of saltwater from Corona del Mar State beach while beachgoers watched in amazement, likely wondering what was wrong with the water they were swimming in. I returned to the lab and set up the experiment by adding caffeine to the water. After six days, I was surprised to find that the caffeine had completely disappeared from all of the saltwater, which I kept in the dark. I hypothesized that caffeine-degrading bacteria was present in the saltwater. I prepared a medium containing caffeine as the only source of carbon and added some of the saltwater to this. Bacteria grew in this medium, meaning it had the ability to degrade caffeine. This bacteria were sent out for identification, and the results identified Pseudomonas putida, a bacterium that had not previously been isolated from natural water systems. My mentor believes this might be a new strain of bacteria. Further testing is needed to confirm these results.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

After attending graduate school and earning my Ph. D, I would like to become a research professor at a university. I am interested in researching methods of restoration ecology, conservation biology, and ocean ecology because I fear that our ecosystems are being destroyed. Our planet's oceans, rainforests, and coral reefs are facing destruction due to pollution, global warming, and over-fishing. Through research, I plan to develop methods to lessen the stresses we put on our environment and to help preserve our biodiversity. As a professor, I will strive to inspire students to become scientists and to instill in them respect for nature.

I have designed my education so that I will have the skills to excel in academia and research. Thus far in my undergraduate education, I have learned about organisms and ecosystems, general chemistry, chemistry laboratory skills, organic chemistry, the philosophy of science and research, how to write a research paper, and the social ecology of health promotion. These classes have prepared me for my work now and in the future as a research professor. I will finish my science courses and a course in bioethics, which is important for every researcher, to ensure that future scientists are socially responsible. After graduating with a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, I will attend graduate school. There, I will learn more about my fields of interest and develop a research project in a particular area. I will also teach and mentor younger students as practice for being a professor.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

Any student who is interested in research should talk to someone involved with UROP, who can help them to define their research goals and alert them to any research opportunities on campus. Once the student confirms that he is really interested in research, and is aware of all the opportunities available to him, he should begin talking to professors about joining their labs. The student should find a professor with whom he shares a common passion. There are many professors and, under them, many graduate students who are all working on different projects, so chances are any student on campus can find a lab that is studying something they are truly passionate about. After a student is admitted to a lab, he should begin applying for fellowships. Fellowships can be either money that pays, in effect, a salary to the student for doing research, or can be money to pay for lab supplies. The required proposals may look intimidating, but, by taking the time to write them, the student will have gained some practice with scientific writing, if not money to support his or her research.

I encourage the students who are unsure what they want to research, or who are interested in finding out more about research in general, to volunteer at the UROP Symposium in May, or attend this or other research conferences, such as the Southern California Conference of Undergraduate Research in November. Students can view research projects in all fields and converse with undergraduate researchers as well as professors.

Past Researchers of the Month
Dec. '06 Megan Trotter
Nov. '06 Allison Zemek
Oct. '06 Jeremy Roth
Sept. '06 Crystal Wang
Aug. '06 Michael Thompson
Jul. '06 Kimberly Balazs
Jun. '06 Joseph Boufadel
May '06 Vicky Zhou
Apr. '06 Jessica Morreale
Mar. '06 Talinn Toorian
Feb. '06 Vivek Mehta
Jan. '06 Pernille Hemmer
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