New Collaboration With University of Minnesota Encourages Scientific Exploration

New Collaboration With University of Minnesota Encourages Scientific Exploration


Photo Credit: Madeline Svoboda

Dr. Robert Evans has no shortage of creative ideas when it comes to scientific research.

While he and his wife were high school teachers in North Africa, Dr. Evans learned that scorpion stings were a serious health threat in his host nation. Low-income families often live in poorly constructed houses, which has led to a serious problem–scorpions sometimes get into the beds of sleeping children and sting them if the child rolls over. To look for a solution, Dr. Evans is conducting a behavioral study on scorpion movements.

Another example of creativity: Molecular biologists and geneticists study zebrafish as research models, but when the eggs are cryogenically frozen and shipped for collaborations, 98% of the eggs do not survive. Dr. Evans is using X-ray diffractometry to look for damaging crystalline ice to find the answer.

For most of us, these research projects might never materialize (not to mention become available to undergrads as part of their academic program).

However, Dr. Evans happens to be a National Institutes of Health Research Fellow who works on Structural Biology and Biophysics at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

He recently started a collaboration project with Crown College that involves scientific work on both campuses. At Crown, students will assist with UMN biophysics research by designing, testing, and using ground-breaking instrumentation in biophysical studies.

“My desire is to get as many Crown students involved in research as possible,” says Dr. Evans. “Research experience is vital for success in continuing in the sciences and in pursuing education beyond an undergraduate degree. I hope these efforts will lead to future internships and make science more meaningful.”

“This will help me in future academic pursuits because it gave me much experience working on technical projects as a team member, and because I learned many new skills/knowledge that are applicable to my field of study and career path,” adds Elijah Berscheid, a Crown student who participated with Dr. Evans over the summer and is now at Purdue.

The collaboration also involves working in the Gordon Lab at the University of Minnesota. In fact, three Crown students helped with research projects over this past summer. Some worked on the biological side of the research; some, on the mechanical instrumentation side.

“While it is very expensive to get into biochemical or biomedical research directly, the recombinant expression and purification of proteins requires a great deal of costly equipment and consumables,” says Dr. Evans, explaining how the equipment and procedures also require fairly elaborate safety precautions. “The indirect approach of building biophysics instrumentation based on $35 Raspberry Pi electronics and 3D-printed parts is very feasible!”

History at Crown

Dr. Evans has many connections to Crown. His wife, Karen Evans, is an Assistant Professor of Science and Math Education, his daughter Laura (Evans) Clapper is an alumnus, and his son-in-law, Thomas Clapper, is a Graduate Assistant in the Marketing department.

It was an idea from his daughter, Laura, and a providential meeting that led him and his wife to Crown College in the first place.

While attending a picnic for overseas workers in North Africa in 2010, he sat next to a fellow picnic-goer (and complete stranger) and, during the course of their conversation, explained how his daughter attended Crown and that she had spoken of a year-long ‘International Workers in Residence’ (or IWiR) program. He told this stranger all about the program and how great it would be to transition back to the States while serving at Crown and being near his daughter. He was interested in applying.

It turns out, he was talking to the very person who arranges the IWiR residencies! Plans came together, and after a year at Crown, he completed a PhD in biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics at the U. of M., specializing in structural biology and biophysics.

Dr. Evans is driven and inspired to study science because of the truths revealed in Colossians 1:15-17 – “He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

“The first material act of God was to speak the universe into existence,” he says. “That act of creation is also the first act that opened us to science. That means science is not just studying God’s creation, but studying His creativity as well. The pursuit of science is for me, worship. I want to invite Crown students to come and worship with me. Taste and see that the Lord is Good!”