Local lab founded by retired Brock prof providing valuable experience for Brock students

In just six weeks, thirdyear Biochemistry co-op student Priyanka Seenauth from Mauritius has learned a number of new skills and boosted her confidence working at NorgenBiotek. 

The local microbiology firm was founded by retired Brock University Professor of Biological Sciences Yousef Haj-Ahmad (BSc ’80, MSc ’82). They produce collection, purification and preservation devices for samples of all types, such as saliva, soil, urine and DNA. More recently, they’ve adapted their equipment to manufacture testing kits for COVID-19. 

Seenauth’s roles at the lab as a co-op student include operating a centrifuge along with working as a capper and filler for the production of saliva preservation solution. The latter is used when swab samples are collected, such as ones administered by health-care professionals during COVID-19. 

“The industry experience I got is incredible,” says Seenauth. “I was guided through the whole process in lab. I have been able to come across new terms and tools that made me more confident as a Biochemistry major. 

Seenauth isn’t the only international student benefitting from their experience at Norgen. 

Vishva Hiteshkumar Bhatt, a second-year Public Health co-op student from India, has been working at the Thorold-based lab for almost two months. 

“I was amazed by their work regarding COVID-19 detection kits, swab collection and nucleic acid preservative system,” said Bhatt. “They are a creditable organization with propel-certified next-generation sequencing service.”  

Bhatt said the part that interested her the most was their technology based on isolation, purification, concentration and clean-up of DNA, RNA, microRNA and proteins from various specimen types. 

Bhatt’s main responsibilities as a co-op student include quality control, but she was also able to learn how the company manages its production, sales and marketing. 

Norgen has given me a clear understanding of my interests,” said Bhatt. It’s made me a task-driven person and helped to gain professional and technical knowledge by getting an opportunity to work in all the departments. 

The connection between Brock and Norgen is rooted beyond just Haj-Ahmad and his family. Many of the University’s students receive their first chance at industry through the lab, including Matthew Mueller (BSc ’2017, MSc ’2019) who supervises both Bhatt and Seenauth. 

Mueller, who has worked for Norgen since August 2019, recognized the benefits of staying in Niagara. 

“Staying local versus travelling to a larger city to work at a larger company has specific advantages, such as diversified learning opportunities,” said Meuller. 

This was particularly true when the demand for COVID-related products transitioned Mueller from his desk job in sales and marketing to manufacturing where he works as a shift manager. 

My team makes components for the isolation/purification step in the COVID-19 diagnostic workflow,” said Mueller.  

On a deeper level, Mueller has learned how to effectively deal with challenges in the face of adversity. 

“The togetherness at Norgen is stronger than ever as we deal with daily challenges head-on to continue to provide kits needed for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, said Mueller. This is a movement that feels really good to be a part of. 

Although his time at Brock is complete, Mueller knows the learning never ends.  

I have learned many lessons that biology textbooks simply can’t teach,” said Mueller. I think the most valuable take-away from my time at Norgen is not what I learned, but how to learn. The fast-paced environment at Norgen has kept me on my feet, allowing me to continue gaining career experience: not just science, but business, marketing and working effectively with others, even if they may see things differently.”

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