Biology graduate students compete in annual poster contest

 Thirteen biology graduate students can finally relax after unveiling the products of months of diligent research on a variety of topics, creatively presented on glossy science posters during the third annual Molecular Biology Poster Conference at LAU Byblos on May 13.molecular-pio-poster-conference2010-01-180.jpg

The students carefully defended their research as a three-member faculty jury made rounds throughout the Rima Hourani Exhibition Room with their grading pads to choose a winner for the competition.

“The event allows new students to learn about the types of research being conducted in our molecular biology lab while offering the graduate students the experience they need to lead careers as scientists,” said Maya Farah, senior science lab technician and chair of the event.

The jury, comprised of Dr. Roy Khalaf, assistant professor of biology, Dr. Brigitte Wex, assistant professor of chemistry, and Dr. Ralph Abi-Habib, assistant professor of biology, judged the students based on their explanation of their posters, in addition to their content and aesthetics.

Students appeared to be driven more by their passion for biology than by the prospect of winning an award — which was a gift certificate for the Virgin Megastore.


“I’m in it for the science, not the prize,” said Zahra Timsah, a final-year M.S. student who could barely contain her excitement as she explained her research on a modified anthrax toxin that could potentially be used to cure cancer. “Until now, I’m optimistic,” she added.

Several faculty advisers came to support their students. Dr. Mirvat El Sibai, assistant professor of biology at LAU, smiled as one of her students looked tense after she sent a faculty member to question the student on the informational aspect of her poster.

“It’s tough love,” El Sibai said, explaining that students need to be pushed and challenged in order to excel. “This is how my mentor trained me, and now I appreciate it.”

Organized by LAU’s Department of Natural Sciences under the School of Arts and Sciences in Byblos, the event was kicked off earlier in the day, with three presentations by prominent experts.

Dr. Michael Langston, a renowned professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Tennessee, presented on the latest developments in computational tools to analyze gene expressions.

Dr. Sandra Rizk-Jamati, assistant professor of biology at LAU, talked about one of her ongoing projects analyzing the structure of cell membrane adhesion proteins in relation to cellular differentiation on liver, kidney and colon cells.

The last speaker, Dr. Marc Karam, assistant professor of biology at Balamand University and part-time faculty member at LAU’s School of Pharmacy, revealed a correlation between immune-system response and infection in mice caused by the Leishmania major parasite, in hopes of reaching medical applications in anesthesia.

According to Dr. Sima Tokajian, assistant professor of molecular microbiology at LAU who was also the moderator of the event, the speakers were chosen because of their specialized expertise. “Bioinformatics is a very hot field right now that highlights the importance of interdisciplinary fields in advancement of research,” she said.

“I’m pleased that this event is being very well taken care of by the people working behind the scenes,” said Dr. Fouad Hashwa, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences in Byblos, in reference to Farah, Tokajian and others who worked tirelessly over the past several weeks to organize the day.

After reviewing each poster, the judges deliberated outside for about 15 minutes before handing down the verdict to Hashwa who declared student Bassem Khalil as the winner of the poster competition for his project looking at the role of a specific protein in suppressing invasions by Astrocytoma, a common brain tumor.

“I hope one day to see you all with your science posters in the real world,” Hashwa told the students as the event came to an end.