A sticky situation: Senior biology major studies blood for honors project

Things are getting a little bloody over in Reed. But don’t worry—it’s in pursuit of science.

Senior biology major, Brian Ginn, is pricking fingers, smearing blood, and analyzing DNA, with the goal of creating a new method for undergraduate students to study blood types.

“The end goal of the research is to have a protocol that goes from cheek cells to [DNA] for undergraduate labs,” said Brian, his passion for science evident as he started drawing blood cells on the white board.


Brian Ginn tests blood type. Clumping indicates a positive result.

The beginnings of the project started two years ago, when Brian began his capstone honors project. He went through five different project ideas before settling on this one, using cheek cells to determine someone’s blood type.

Blood type is usually determined with a finger prick test. The finger is poked with a small needle, and blood from the prick is smeared on three separate plates. A different type of serum is added to each plate. How the serum reacts with each blood sample shows blood type: A-, A+, B-, B+, AB, or O.

This is where Brian’s testing gets complicated. He doesn’t want to just know the blood type, but the DNA behind it. This means another test, requiring gels, electromagnetic waves, and ultraviolent light.

But Brian’s goal is to bypass all that, doing the same test, but much less painfully. Cheek cell testing just requires rinsing the mouth and spitting into a cup—good news for biology students who may not want their finger pricked.

“The goal is to get the students learn,” Brian said.

Creating a new experiment method, though, can get challenging.

“You’re often going to do the test and not get the results you want…. Doing something that’s not been done before, you have to start with what you think will work, and go from there.”

And although Brian has a newfound respect for research, this project has solidified his dreams of being a doctor, possibly on the mission field. In the past few years, Brian has been to Papua New Guinea with medical work teams twice. On the last trip, he worked the entire summer in a mission hospital.

“[This project] tells me I don’t want to be a researcher full time. I’d rather interact with people.”


A dream still years of medical school away, but today Brian Ginn contents himself with pricking fingers, smearing blood, and hopefully, helping some squeamish biology students in the process.

Attached is the TV and radio version I wrote of this story: GG-blood

Here is a link to the story that was published in my school newspaper and on the Olivet website.

Meaningful Words: Just as it Should Be

Screen shot 2014-05-02 at 4.01.53 PM


Pardon my language, but I’m going to go with Mark Twain on this one:

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you are inclined to write ‘very’; your editor would delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

If only we would stop over exaggerating and write as we should.

Robin Wauters wrote an article I read recently about this very issue. It called for ten overused words to be banned from press releases, including “leading,” “innovation,” and “revolutionary.” The point is that when we overuse and misuse these words consistently, they loose their meaning—completely counteracting your purpose as a writer.

The purpose of any writer—whether PR or journalism—is to make information understood by your audience. And when our words loose their meaning, so does that information.

So how then do we write in a way that is exciting and engaging without overusing and abusing words?

Know your audience. Writing to your audience both defines your content and vocabulary, which, incidentally enough, solves both problems. If your content is applicable to your reader, then you get an engaged reader. If your write to your reader’s comprehension level, then you get an engaged reader. It’s simple—nothing your write will be successful if you don’t understand your audience.

If you think you are writing simply, write simpler. This is preaching to myself as much as anyone. As writers, let’s be honest. We can get a big head. We love words. We love big words. And we want to share those words as much as possible. This is the problem though—not very many other people care about the nuances the between facetious and frivolous. But a lot of people can find it in their heart to care about the difference between inappropriate and lighthearted.

Remember your purpose. Basically, the point is simple: you are writing to get your message across. Put aside your own agenda and awesome writing ability, and channel “the reader.”

Which, by the way, is much more difficult that writing for yourself.