Stephen Black ’15 worked as a research assistant during college.
A chemistry major at Pacific University, he spent his time in the School of Pharmacy research lab, where Professor John Harrelson has been investing a new tobacco cessation option.
Today, Black continues that work as a full-time lab technician at the School of Pharmacy, still building on the work he began as an undergraduate and developing scientific research skills he will carry throughout his career.
For Harrelson, that’s about as rewarding as the research he is undertaking.
“The science doesn’t become more important than the students.”
Like all Pacific faculty members, Harrelson’s first priority is teaching.
Yes, his research is promising -— so much so that he received a National Institutes of Health grant to continue it earlier this year. That grant is specifically designed for organizations building their research infrastructure — organizations like Pacific, where developing future scientists is the primary goal.
In 2008, Harrelson first began looking for a natural compound that could inhibit nicotine metabolism. Genetic research, he said, had found that people who metabolize nicotine more quickly felt the need to use more and had a harder time quitting.
He started screening compounds and soon found a compound in cinnamon oil that seemed effective. Now, he is exploring how and why the compound slows the metabolism process and how that may be used as a cessation option.
He’s not doing it alone, though. Harrelson has partnered with several faculty members in the School of Pharmacy and the undergraduate Chemistry Department, and students from both programs get hands-on research experience as part of the project.
Undergraduates have the opportunity to work alongside third-year doctorate candidates in the lab and to gain experience using high-tech equipment that they likely wouldn’t touch in a large research university. Pharmacy students, meanwhile, build their research credentials, present their work at national and international conferences, and build a network of future research partners.
“The science doesn’t become more important than the students,” Harrelson said.
Rather, the science gives students the experience to further their careers. Black, for example, has established a molecular modeling program for the project and teaches current students how to extend research and save resources through computer models.
“I like that I’m building these different skills to bring to market,” he said.
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