Summer Student Placement Scholarship: crystallised knowledge

In summer 2021, Sara Lawrence got the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of a research lab, as well as fieldwork.


Our project proposal was focused on the biomineralization of cave bacteria. Specifically, investigating the urease metabolic pathway(s) involved in microbiologically-induced calcium precipitation (MICP). From our lab’s previous studies, 11 isolates were found to be urease positive. Of these 11 candidates, we focused on two isolates, one from popcorn speleothem, and the other soda straw speleothem. Both bacterial isolates chosen were macroscopically and microscopically different. The crystals of both isolates
also had unique and diverse morphologies. The isolates chosen also had a large amount of crystal growth, particularly in the high urease concentrated media used to grow them. The two chosen isolates were whole-genome sequenced and gene analyses are being investigated to better understand whether and how urease metabolic pathways are involved in MICP for these 2 selected isolates. During this project, in the laboratory at TRU, I have learned a range of fundamental microbiological techniques from aseptic techniques in order to minimize contamination of samples to assessing the viability of cells and using a spectrophotometer. Additionally, I had an opportunity to assist Cheeptham’s lab members who were working on other research projects to go out in the field to collect sewage samples from a local hospital in the city I live in.

The experience and knowledge that I have gained from this internship both on working with bacteria and the process of writing a research proposal have been extremely motivating. Being a first-year student during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was not able to experience any in-person laboratory techniques or procedures. Maintaining excitement and motivation through online university during this global pandemic was at times quite difficult. Not only was I able to gain hands-on experience in a research laboratory, I was also able to use research as a way to motivate and inspire myself, as I am now inspired to pursue a career in microbiology.

During the process of the research project, I became interested in and involved with another research project, specifically, testing a probiotic cocktail to help prevent white-nose syndrome in bats.

My research work through SfAM Student Placement support has also allowed me to attend the 3rd annual European Mineralogy Conference. Through this experience, I learned how to write an abstract, a poster, and how to present research findings at an international conference.

Over the summer, I was also able to volunteer with Dr. Cheeptham and the Kamloops Immigrant Service to participate in the Youth Science Summer camp through the Scientists and Innovators in Schools program supported by the Science World -TELUS.

Not only have I gained laboratory experience but also been able to build professional connections with both professors and other students. I am so grateful for this experience and to my supervisor, Dr. Naowarat Cheeptham, who has been incredibly helpful throughout this scholarship by supporting my interest in microbiology. I am left with endless questions which I am so excited to research. I look forward to the rest of my undergraduate degree and continuing with research throughout my degree and
am now interested in completing post-graduate work.

I would like to continue with a directed studies program as well as university funded scholarships and undergraduate research awards. Moving forward, I would like to continue with both of these research projects and obtain more laboratory experience as well as learning to develop manuscripts and disseminate my research findings in peer-review scientific journals.

Find out more about SfAM's Summer Student Placement Scholarship by clicking here.


Sara Lawrence