Generating new scientific discovery and accelerating solutions to some of today’s biggest challenges takes a team. At Triton College’s PLUS Lab, undergraduate and faculty researchers jointly plan investigations, from testing the first hypothesis to presenting the newest findings. The PLUS Lab builds on Triton’s strong history of student success, while increasing opportunities for student and faculty participation. Agencies funding student-centered research include the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Energy. Such research is an educational best practice and recognized by the American Association of Colleges and Universities: The goal is to involve students with actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions.
The Differences Between Undergraduate Research and a Standard Science Class
Undergraduate Research, Student Benefits
- Unites students and faculty across diverse disciplines by promoting engagement in scientific research under the mentorship and guidance of faculty with subject area expertise.
- Increases student access to firsthand experiences in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), preparing them to graduate, continue their education or seek STEM-related employment.
- Engages students to solve concrete challenges using problem-based learning.
- Enhances student resumes while building transferable skills.
- Cultivates an understanding of the scientific process, including presenting original research.
Undergraduate research is one of the most enjoyable things to work on with students because you can see their growth in knowledge and confidence most directly. It's also where I get to learn new things because students are leading the questions and we don't know what the answers will be. Taking students out into their own community to collect samples to bring back to the lab also gives everyone a sense of purpose for what we're doing and they see how their science can be used to help people.
Chairperson, Science Department
Faculty, Geology and Environmental Science
Being able to work with students on novel research projects has given me the opportunity to watch them grow as they embark on a journey of discovery. It has also been beneficial for my own professional development and afforded us the opportunity to work together to solve real-world problems.
Faculty, Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Working with students on research projects has been a great experience. I love seeing students' progress from just following directions of lab procedures in the classroom setting to developing their own questions and procedures for their own experiments. During this process, they gain a better understanding of how the process of science really works when outcomes aren't predefined as they often are in classroom experiments.
Faculty, Biological and Environmental Sciences
As a biologist/biochemist, I am interested in how cells and living systems work at the molecular level. A defect in normal functioning could lead to diseases such as cancer. Undergraduate students can contribute a great deal to research with two simple ingredients – curiosity and an intense desire to learn! With the right guidance, our students can contribute to knowledge that will aid in understanding disease states and possible solutions to combat them. Additionally, the research experience can enhance students' applications to professional schools and employers to the next level.
Faculty, Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Participation in undergraduate research has been identified as one of the High Impact Practices in education by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. The PLUS Lab offers students the possibility to get involved with their professors in authentic undergraduate research in many areas of STEM, outside what they routinely do in their classroom labs. Some of my interests involve DNA barcoding of microorganisms, mainly fungi, that can be isolated from diverse environments in our area. Using the same approach, I am also interested in DNA barcoding of ancient DNA found in fossilized samples of animals and/or plants aiming to a species identification. Projects like those expose students to a wide range of skills spanning from fossil observation and manipulation to cutting-edge techniques in molecular biology for species identification. As an interdisciplinary laboratory, the PLUS Lab will be an essential component that will provide the experience value component in our college's educational value proposition.
Gabriel E. Guzman
Coordinator of the Biotechnology Laboratory Technician Program
Let’s Discuss Your Idea
Tell us how you might use the PLUS Research Lab and what you’ll need. Research teams, faculty research advisor and students are all welcome to contact us, as is anyone with a project idea or anyone seeking to participate in a research partnership.
Recent and Current Student Projects
Varnish Degradation – Examining the impact of heat on varnish in paintings utilizing fiber optic spectroscopy. Awarded second and third place in Chemistry in 2019 and 2020 at the Illinois Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (ILSAMP) Conferences.
Vermiponics – Using nutrients from organic worm waste to grow vegetables indoors without synthetic fertilizers. Awarded third place in Environmental Science at the 2020 ILSAMP Conference.
Mycoremediation – Removing pollutants and bacteria from the Des Plaines River by growing oyster mushrooms. Presented at the 2021 Northeastern Illinois University Student Research and Creative Activities Symposium.
NASA MINDS (Minority University Research and Education Project Innovative New Designs for Space) – Developing new rocket fuel catalysts, and designing and testing thrusters with the support of local industry partners. Funded through a NASA grant.
Jackson Collection – Cataloging and analyzing rock and fossils samples from more than 1,500 locations in the 48 contiguous states. Ongoing, in collaboration with the University of Hawaii and the Kansas State Geological Survey.