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Sparking Chemistry: Hansen Life Sciences Retreat Fosters Collaboration

Thursday, Sep. 27, 2012

USU undergrad biochemist Emily Frampton

Undergrad biochemist Emily Frampton presents her research to peers at USU's 2012 Hansen Life Science Retreat on Sept. 22. Photos by Karamatullah Danyal.

science retreat participants, 2012

More than 40 USU students gathered for the 2012 Hansen Life Sciences Retreat at Sherwood Hills Resort in Utah's Wellsville Canyon. Led by USU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the annual event fosters interdisciplinary research.

The best way to encourage budding scientists and spark interdisciplinary collaborations may be to take young researchers out of the lab and away from campus. That’s the thinking of faculty members in Utah State University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and their strategy seems to be working.

“We gathered 48 participants for our second annual Hansen Life Sciences Retreat and whisked them to Sherwood Hills resort in Utah’s Wellsville Canyon for a day,” says Sean Johnson, R. Gaurth Hansen assistant professor of biochemistry and a retreat organizer. “It was a wonderful event and we hope to involve many more students in the future.”

At the Sept. 22 gathering, students conducted oral and poster presentations of their research projects. The retreat drew undergraduates, graduate students and a few postdoctoral researchers from seven research labs in the chemistry and biochemistry department and one lab in USU’s Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences.

“Our goal for next year is to include more students from other USU departments using chemical approaches to study biological phenomena,” says Joanie Hevel, associate professor of biochemistry; also a retreat organizer. “We view this retreat as the new nexus for chemical biology research at USU. And from our initial retreat in 2011 and this year’s event, we’re learning this is great way to inspire and mentor students as well as foster working relationships among researchers from diverse disciplines.”

Four students received awards for their presentations. Prizes, provided by retreat sponsor VWR International, a global laboratory supply company, were awarded to poster presenters Emily Frampton, Johnson Lab, Chem/Biochem; Mark Haney, Hengge Lab, Chem/Biochem; Stephany Perez, Benninghoff Lab, ADVS; and Damon Nitzel, Hevel Lab, Chem/Biochem.

Frampton, the lone undergraduate among the award recipients, says she appreciated feedback from peers about her research efforts and presentation skills.

“We received constructive criticism about our individual projects that was really helpful,” she says. “I feel more confident after this experience.”

Graduate student Anna Lytle, who works in the lab of Edwin Antony, R. Gaurth Hansen assistant professor of biochemistry, was among the invited speakers at the event. She says the retreat helped her hone her presentation skills.

“The Antony lab is the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s newest lab, so I appreciated this opportunity to represent our team and tell everybody about our research focus,” Lytle says. “Presenting helped me organize my own research and place it in the greater context of our entire lab. I found this very useful.”

In addition to research presentations, event organizers announced recent awards received and papers published by retreat participants.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to find out about the accomplishments of my fellow grad students and congratulate them,” Lytle says.

Johnson says the student-centered event is designed to expose newer students to research accomplishments of their more experienced peers and encourage participants to set higher goals.

“When students hear about another student publishing a paper in a well-known journal or presenting at a professional conference or winning a prestigious award, they’re inspired to reach higher,” he says.

Frampton says she enjoyed getting acquainted with students from other labs.

“It was intriguing to hear about the different research going on across campus,” she says. “Being away from campus allowed us as researchers to bond and get to know each other better. I think the connections we created are greatly beneficial.”

Lytle says the relaxed atmosphere at a canyon resort was a welcome break from campus.

“It was nice to have the time to sit and talk with people without the stress of taking time out of the work day,” she says.

The Hansen Life Sciences Retreat is named for the late R. Gaurth Hansen, a USU alum who joined the university’s faculty in 1968. An internationally respected biochemist, Hansen served for 16 years as an academic vice president and as Distinguished Professor of Nutrition and Food Sciences and Chemistry/Biochemistry at Utah State. He was named USU Distinguished Professor Emeritus in 1985.

A seminar series in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry also honors Hansen’s memory. The 2012 Hansen Seminar is slated for Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 4 p.m. in WIDT 330. Featured lecturer is pioneering biochemist Anna Marie Pyle of Yale University.

Hansen retreat 2012 sponsors, in addition to VWR, were American Laboratory Trading, Eppendorf, Genewiz and Goldbio.

Oct. 1-5 is Science Week at USU. For a schedule, visit the Utah State Today announcement about the week’s events.

Related links:

USU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

USU College of Science

Contact: Joanie Hevel, 435-797-1622,

Contact: Sean Johnson, 435-797-2089,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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