UTAH TECH UNIVERSITY'S STUDENT NEWS SOURCE | November 11, 2022

Research lab gives students real specimens to study

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Tucked away in the upstairs of the Science Building are more than 15 kinds of animals, including the newest addition: Poison Dart Frogs.

Now, don’t shy away from the Science Building just yet. Not only are the Poison Dart Frogs not actually poisonous, but they are tiny, blue and too innocent for their harsh name. The less-than-a-year-old lab is the first of its kind to grace Dixie State University, and it is home to amphibians, reptiles and fish, and endless research opportunities are in the future.

Jennifer Ciaccio, an assistant professor and lab director, created the lab in the beginning of fall semester to give students a space to conduct research.

“The one thing that we didn’t have going into university status was a place where students could actually come and do research (where) they wouldn’t be disturbing other classes,” Ciaccio said. “The reason that there is not an actual classroom space in this lab is specifically so you can let undergraduates do research in here regardless of when classes are meeting.”

Ciaccio hopes to continue to provide more research opportunities by incorporating more animals into the lab. Ciaccio said obtaining some animals requires specific permits.

“Working on vertebrate for independent research is a lot more complicated or involved with permitting, rather than for classes,” Ciaccio said. “So right now, we don’t have any vertebrate research that is independent research. We don’t have those resources right now, but we’re working on getting them.”

The lab currently has everything from African Clawed Frogs and Leopard Frogs to Axolotls and a Jackson’s Chameleon. Caring for the animals keeps Cami McKellar, a senior biology major from Sandy, hard at work.

“My job is to keep everything alive,” McKellar said. “So we just want to extend the lifetime of our animals so we can use them and learn from them. I keep them alive, so that involves a lot of cleaning and feeding, and it involves a lot of research as well. I started this job thinking, ‘I hope I don’t run out of stuff to do,’ but I never run out of stuff to do.”

McKellar said the lab is a logical and valuable addition to the science department.

“We wanted to have an organismal lab,” McKellar said. “In the science department, it’s just something you should have. We have awesome classes like ichthyology, herpetology and marine biology, and if we can have animals that represent those courses, and we can do some research with them as well, that would be great for the students.”

Trent McElroy, a freshman biology major from Littleton, Colo., said the lab has helped extend his knowledge of animals and how to care for them.

“I’ve already had a decent idea of how to take care of different things,” McElroy said. “But to see all the sets and to see the organization they have on the spread sheet to keep track of everything, that’s been the most helpful thing is getting an idea of how to get organized.”

The lab is open to any students interested in conducting research or even students who are simply interested in taking a gaze at the foreign animals. Ciaccio welcomes curious students with open arms.

“This space is open for any student who wants to do research and for any class,” Ciaccio said. “Even if they are not at a point where they are ready to do official, independent research, they can still get started up here. Come on in. Even if they just want to come up and check out our super-cool animals, which are super awesome, they are more than welcome to come in and look around.”