Brown’s quest for cures on display at research fest

Al Brown stands in his lab. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Al Brown stands in his lab. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Al Brown laughs now at the naiveté of the response he gave as a 17-year-old high school senior when asked about his interests during a visit to the University of Iowa.

“I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. “I didn’t know what it was called or how to do it. So, I said, ‘I want to make cures.’”

Brown, a junior microbiology major from Charlotte, N.C., didn’t waste much time pursuing that end.

After that visit, he applied to the Iowa Biosciences Advantage program and, two days after graduating from high school, was multiplying DNA samples in a lab in Iowa City.

For the past two years, Brown has been conducting research in the pathology department, working on building a pulmonary bacterial model that tests the relationship between chronic alcohol consumption and increased mortality and decreased cell counts in alcoholics with bacterial infections.

That work has taken Brown to conferences all over the country, and he’ll be presenting on the topic at the third annual Fall Undergraduate Research Festival on Wednesday, Dec. 7.

Fall Undergraduate
Research Festival

The third annual Fall Undergraduate Research Festival will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 7, in the second-floor atrium of University Capitol Centre. Al Brown is one of 52 participants in this year’s festival.

“Some of the information is common knowledge,” Brown says of his research results. “If you drink a lot, obviously you’re going to get sick. We want to look at specifically why you get sick. When we understand why, we can help prevent serious illness and even death.”

Brown is one of 52 participants in this year’s festival, which runs from 4:30 to 7 p.m. in the second-floor atrium of University Capitol Centre. The event is a showcase for Iowa undergraduate students and will feature research ranging from the arts and humanities to math and engineering to natural and social sciences.

“The festival is an excellent experience for the presenters,” says Bob Kirby, director of the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates. “It gives them a chance to share what they have discovered with others. It’s also a great opportunity for students who want to get involved. They can speak directly to their peers about how undergraduate research can engage and challenge them, as well as learn about the broad range of work going on around campus.”

For Brown, it’s just another chance to share what he’s learned on his quest for cures

“I’ve had so many opportunities because of the research I’m doing,” he says. “It’s connected me to faculty and given me access to information on the cutting edge. I’ve been able to network and travel all over the country and talk to people who are experts in the field.

“The experience has added so much to my education. It’s one thing to learn something in a classroom or from a book. Doing research, you actually are experiencing it. You have to piece together the puzzle. It broadens your ability to think.”