Mak­ing sci­ence work

J’can stu­dent ex­per­i­ments with re­search and busi­ness

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Glenda An­der­son/Staff Re­porter glenda.an­der­son@glean­erjm.com

TWO YEARS ago, Ja­maica-born La­mar-Shea Chang pitched a pro­posal for an un­der­grad­u­ate sci­ence re­search project at Cald­well Univer­sity in New Jer­sey that not only earned him cam­pus hon­ours but opened doors to the op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able in STEM re­search and busi­ness.

He now be­lieves that with the right sup­port and men­tor­ship, many more young per­sons can make an im­pact in find­ing so­lu­tions to real-life prob­lems.

He was hon­oured at t he In­de­pen­dent Col­lege Fund of New Jer­sey Un­der­grad­u­ate Re­search Symposium for re­search ti­tled ‘Con­vert ev­ery hu­man into a nat­u­ral mosquito de­ter­rent’.

He said: “Our bod­ies give off scents all the time; some are un­de­tectable. I then thought, can our bod­ies give off an odour which wards off mos­qui­toes while stay­ing un­de­tected by the hu­man sense of smell?”

The project, he says, is re­mark­able as he didn’t con­sider him­self a sci­en­tist or busi­ness per­son, but the project’s po­ten­tial for suc­cess gave his con­fi­dence a boost.

“There were stu­dents in the Cald­well Univer­sity sci­ence re­search group who were de­sign­ing ar­ti­fi­cial ar­ter­ies, do­ing re­search with breast can­cer cells, and work­ing on bio­fuel pro­duc­tion; t he pos­si­bil­i­ties seemed lim­it­less.

“The re­search ex­pe­ri­ence opened my eyes to the pos­si­bil­i­ties in sci­ence. I was very im­pressed by the shrewd philoso­phies that guide the busi­ness ap­proaches. It was as if there were no lim­its to what one could be­come, and I much pre­ferred this amal­ga­mate learn­ing ap­proach.”

RASTA­FAR­IAN HELP

It was a pitch that also drew hon­ours for Ja­maica’s of­ten un­der­utilised l ocal medic­i­nal herbs and the lo­cal Rasta­far­ian com­mu­nity as a reser­voir of knowl­edge on Ja­maican cul­ture.

“I con­tacted the Rasta­far­ian com­mu­nity to rec­om­mend herbs which they thought could be mosquito re­pel­lents. The com­mu­nity didn’t know all the chem­i­cal com­po­nents or their in­ter­ac­tion with the hu­man body, but they do know if some­thing works. They gave me a list of about nine lo­cal plants. I worked it down to about three or four, and I set about ex­tract­ing the oils and cre­at­ing con­di­tions in the lab to grow mos­qui­toes to test the hy­poth­e­sis.”

The list was nar­rowed down to neem, rice bit­ters, and aloe vera.

“The mosquito eggs were sourced all the way from Florida. Some eggs didn’t sur­vive in tran­sit be­cause of the frigid cold tem­per­a­tures of win­ter. The hard­est part of the ex­per­i­ment was re­cre­at­ing a trop­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment within a lab set­ting dur­ing the win­ter sea­son. Thanks to the re­sources and guid­ance from pro­fes­sors, the im­pos­si­ble trop­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment be­came a re­al­ity.”

He said the daily sched­ule was a re­minder of his days liv­ing in Greater Port­more, St Cather­ine, and at­tend­ing St Ge­orge’s Col­lege in down­town Kingston.

“On my 5 a.m. rou­tines, I had to be on the first bus out of Port­more to get to school on time. I avoided the later buses be­cause those were al­ways packed,” he said.

HEC­TIC SCHED­ULE

He fol­lowed the same sched­ule in New York.

“[Here,] I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and was on the bus to Wall Street, New York City, by 5:30 a.m.,” he said. “I would be back to cam­pus in New Jer­sey for 4-9 p.m. classes, and be­tween 9 and 10:30 p.m., I was back in the chem­istry lab. Ev­ery Fri­day, I was test­ing the mosquito de­ter­rent hy­poth­e­sis. I was versed in the con­di­tions the mos­qui­toes liked: the water, tem­per­a­ture, hu­mid­ity, rest­ing cy­cles, and even pre­ferred food source. I knew those mos­qui­toes like the back of my hand. I knew them be­cause I be­gan spend­ing ev­ery free mo­ment with them. Due to my un­con­ven­tional sched­ule, my pro­fes­sors would sim­ply give me keys to the lab. Any­thing else, and the ex­per­i­ment would have failed.

“It was such a bright mo­ment when I found out that the idea ac­tu­ally works,” Chang said. “That was pos­si­bly the high­light of my time at Cald­well Univer­sity.”

Chang mi­grated to the United States in 2015. The plan was to pur­sue stud­ies for a ca­reer in medicine. His pre-med year, how­ever, saw him ex­per­i­ment­ing with busi­ness stud­ies. “I took a course in eco­nom­ics, and that was it,” he said.

In Septem­ber, he was selected to give the Cald­well Univer­sity stu­dent com­mence­ment ad­dress in Cald­well, New Jer­sey, at the in­sti­tu­tion’s two un­der­grad­u­ate cer­e­monies, which had been de­layed by four months due to the COVID-19 pan­demic.

He re­ceived a Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence de­gree in com­puter in­for­ma­tion sys­tems and bi­ol­ogy with a mi­nor in chem­istry. Chang, now a stu­dent in Cald­well Univer­sity’s MBA pro­gramme with a fo­cus on global busi­ness, cur­rently has a line of herbal sup­ple­ments, See the Glow, which he says is just one of the many projects to come.

“This is just the start. What I re­ally want to do is in­stil healthy life­style prac­tices in all cul­tures. I hope to cre­ate cul­tural norms that im­pact not just a small group of peo­ple but the global com­mu­nity.”

He cred­its his par­ents for his love of the sciences and ‘tech­ni­cals’, his busi­ness acu­men, and charisma, and his aunt for her shrewd­ness and in­com­pa­ra­ble work ethic. He says he is still on course for his orig­i­nal ca­reer and plans to at­tend os­teo­pathic med­i­cal school and spe­cialise in en­docrinol­ogy.

CON­TRIB­UTED

La­mar-Shea Chang.

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