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NECC Students Conduct Research in Partnership with Tufts

Submitted by on March 4, 2014 – 7:46 pm
Photos by Mike Dean

NECC Professor Kevin Mitchell, third from left, works with left to right NECC lab science students Darrin Perrault of Haverhill, Angie Abreu of Methuen,and Gabriela Santana of Lawrence.

Northern Essex Community College’s Lab Science Program is partnering with a protein research lab at Tufts University to give students real-world experience in the classroom.

Professor Stephen Fuchs of Tufts University and two of his students visited Northern Essex’s Haverhill Campus recently to meet with students and share information on the lab, which is researching how repetitive sequences in a protein affects both its structure and its function.

Fuchs will supply Northern Essex students, under the supervision of Professors Kevin Mitchell and Kim Waligora, with yeast strains that carry a mutation to a repetitive sequence in a critical protein.  A mutation is a change in the DNA of an organism that may change observable characteristics of that organism. 

Working in Northern Essex labs, NECC students will culture these yeast strains under selective conditions to identify yeast cells that have undergone a new mutation to overcome the effects of the initial mutation.  The students will then identify the types of mutations that occurred and determine how frequently each mutation occurred.  In the process they hope to identify proteins that are responsible for repairing mutations in the DNA. 

Northern Essex students will post their findings on a blog set up by Fuchs. Tufts researchers will be able to view and comment on the Northern Essex data in real-time and vice versa.

“This is a great opportunity for our students,” said Professor Mitchell. “Their work will be part of a bigger project. They’ll learn from their own research and also through close contact with the lab at Tufts.”

Photos by Mike Dean

NECC Lab Science Student Angie Abreu of Methuen

Professors Fuchs and Mitchell knew each other from the University of Wisconsin, where they both received their Ph.D’s. When Fuchs was hired by Tufts, he contacted Mitchell to discuss how the university could partner with the community college. Mitchell invited Fuchs to join the Lab Science Program Advisory Board and since then, two NECC interns have spent the summer working in the Fuchs lab.

Fuchs has a strong interest in building his partnership with Northern Essex. “Northern Essex interns are ridiculously hard-working,” he says. “And the college’s lab science program fills a need for well-trained lab technicians.”

He is seeking National Science Foundation funding for his lab and Northern Essex is a part of the grant.

The two classes involved in the project are Integrated Science II and Research Experience. Professor Waligora, who teaches Integrated Science II, a first -year course, will use this project during a four-week period this semester to teach lab skills that are part of her course curriculum. Professor Mitchell will work with a group of students from the Research Experience course to conduct research as part of a semester-long project.

Northern Essex’s lab science program is a two-year program that leads to a job as an entry-level laboratory technician and/or transfer to a four-year university. The program has three concentrations to choose from – Biotechnology, Analytical Chemistry, and Environmental Science.

For more information on NECC’s Lab Science Program, visit the website  or contact the college at 978 556-3700 or