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On-Campus Research Opportunities

Students in the Patterson School for Natural Sciences may participate in faculty-mentored experimental research during the academic year or during the summer.


Semester Research

If you are interested in research at Ouachita during the fall or spring semester, begin by contacting potential research mentors.  A good mentor will help you identify a project idea and plan a feasible schedule.


Summer Research

If you are interested in doing summer research at OBU in Summer 2019, you must complete an application. 

The application process for Summer 2019 will occur in early Spring 2019.  Choosing a good faculty mentor is a important aspect of a successful research project.

  • Faculty research interests can be seen by clicking on the faculty name below. Please read through them to see which projects you are interested in.
  • Contact the faculty with whom you would like to work to arrange brief interviews to announce your interest, get information about projects in their labs, and let the faculty members get acquainted with you.
  • Submit an application to the Natural Sciences office by 5:00 p.m., Thursday, February 28, 2019. The contents of the application should include:

    • Your name, major and minor

    • Expected graduation semester and year

    • Any courses relevant to the projects you are interested in

    • Prior research/lab experience, if any

    • The names of three mentors (rank order) with whom you would like to work and why you would like to work with each one

    • Other research opportunities for which you are applying, including application dates and notification dates

    • Designate if you plan for this research to serve as your Honors Program Thesis

    • Are you currently in, or do you plan to apply for an OBU apartment for next fall?

We will make every effort to announce the matches by Friday, March 6, 2020.

If you are accepted:

  • Confirm your plans to work at OBU this summer with your mentor.
  • Discuss with your mentor the requirements for your funding- e.g., start date and end date, contract, etc.
  • Submit your signed contract to the Dean's office by March 15, 2019.


Professors with Patterson-Funded Research (Summer 2020)

Dr. Detri Brech - Nutrition and Dietetics

My summer research projects consist of two focuses. The first research project’s focus will be comparing pre-assessments and post-assessments of children participating in a nutrition/physical activity program to children not participating in a nutrition/physical activity program. The project will have a control group and a treatment group of children age four to twelve years attending Arkadelphia summer childcare programs. Before and after treatment, each child’s nutrition knowledge and height will be measured, and the child will be weighed.  A body mass index (BMI) will be calculated with the height and weight data.  The student researchers will conduct the measurements, plan the nutrition and physical activity lessons, teach the children, and conduct the end of the project measurements. All data will be collected, collated, compared to the last 12 years of data, and presented in a research poster.

The second research project’s focus will be to conduct nutrition-focused physical examinations (NFPE) on adults attending the Arkadelphia Senior Center. The students will read numerous research studies that I have collected on NFPE, will participate in an interactive online training, will be trained by me, and will conduct the assessments. All data collected will be entered into an Excel spreadsheet. Comparisons will be made with any existing data found in the literature. A poster of the research will be presented.

Dr. Kevin Cornelius - Physics

Acoustic measurements relating to a watermelons sweetness

How many times have you purchased a watermelon and anxiously awaited that sweet, juicy first bite only to be disappointed by a bitter or underwhelming taste? It would seem that this could be avoided by correctly choosing a watermelon that was ripe. Various ways have been devised by people to help select a quality watermelon, but the most common is the “thumping” method, in which an individual thumps the middle of watermelon and listens for a hollow sound. A hollow sound is supposed to represent a watermelon that has matured and is ripe. However, this process of choosing a ripe watermelon is NOT consistent and we are attempting to quantify the process using science.  My research uses a student-built thumping device to record the sound of a thump for watermelons of various types, sizes and shapes. Many watermelons need to be tested and categorized by sound and sweetness to determine if a relationship exists between a thump sound and a watermelons sweetness. Currently, we must use 3 different types of software to evaluate our data. One key goal of this summer’s research is to finish writing our own code, which will speed up our analysis from hours to seconds, allow us to more easily fine-tune our parameters as we isolate a sweetness signal, and make it much easier to port our code to app software used by cell phones in the future.

Dr. Tim Hayes - Chemistry

Photodynamic Therapy of Cancer Using Porphyrin Derivatives

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) was devised to circumvent many of the side effects of traditional chemotherapy.  In PDT, the agents that are used are non-toxic until exposed to certain wavelengths of light.  One of the most common forms of cancer for PDT is currently in use is non-small cell lung cancer.  We would like to test the efficacy of our PDT agents against non-small cell lung cancer cells and non-cancerous lung epithelial cells.

Several modified porphyrins have been synthesized in the lab of Dr. Joe Bradshaw.  These were designed to enhance their water-solubility and, in one case, to add a side chain that may enhance uptake by cells.  My lab has been testing these porphyrin derivatives for phototoxicity and other properties that may affect their suitability as PDT agents.

The purpose of this project is 3-fold.  First, we will test Dr. Bradshaw’s porphyrin derivatives to characterize their utility as agents for photodynamic therapy.  We will test the toxicity of these compounds with and without light exposure.  We will use this data to see which of the porphyrin derivatives are most promising as PDT agents.  Second, we will look at where in the cells the compounds localize to see whether localization helps explain differences in toxicity.  Third, we will investigate whether cells treated with a porphyrin derivative die by apoptosis or by another mechanism.

Dr. Sara Hubbard - Chemistry

Statement of Research Interest

Bis-phenol A (BPA) is probably most recognizable for the phrase “BPA free” that is attached to baby bottles and other plastics used for eating and drinking.  BPA can be found in several materials used in the food and drug packaging industry, so there is potential for human exposure to trace amounts of BPA.  Experiments have shown that BPA can bind to and activate estrogen receptors.  Suspected effects of this activation include reduced fertility, altered development, and cancer in estrogen sensitive tissues.  Infants and children are particularly at risk due to their still-developing neurological and endocrine systems.

Despite the reduction of BPA in current food packaging, there are no restrictions on the use of BPA in plastics used for infant oral hygiene products.  Does this mean that baby toothbrushes are a potential source of BPA exposure for infants?  How can we determine if, and how much, BPA is present in a sample?

BPA is a fluorescent compound, which means after absorbing light energy, it will emit a different color of light than what was absorbed.  This emitted light can be measured and directly correlated to the concentration of BPA present in a sample.  Fluorescence is a very sensitive and selective technique, which makes it possible to determine very low concentrations of BPA.  I plan to utilize fluorescence spectroscopy to continue to work toward a better understanding of the behavior of BPA as it leaches out of baby toothbrushes.

Dr. Christin Pruett - Biology

Habitat use by species of conservation concern at Jack Mountain Wildlife Management Area

Birds are declining throughout North America including in the southeastern USA. A primary reason for this decline is habitat loss and fragmentation in breeding areas. Thus, the preservation of large, unfragmented habitats is needed. Jack Mountain Wildlife Management Area could serve as an important area for breeding birds in Arkansas. In summer 2019, students performed field surveys to provide a general assessment of the birds using habitats at Jack Mountain WMA. Students identified 61 species of birds suggesting that Jack Mountain is an important refuge for land birds in Arkansas. Research in summer 2020 will expand on these findings by using targeted surveys to identify the location and habitats used by species that are a focus of ongoing conservation efforts in North America. Students will gain experience in bird identification, habitat assessment, geographic information systems, data entry, and data analysis.

Professors with INBRE or ESPCoR-Funded Research (Summer 2020)

Dr. Blake Johnson - Biology

Statement of Research Interest

Dr. Nathan Reyna - Biology

Statement of Research Interest

Dr. Sharon Hamilton - Chemistry

Incorporating Proteins into Novel Modern Wound Dressings

Electrospinning macromolecules like chitosan and collagen yields nanofibers that have shown promise as tissue scaffolds and drug delivery vehicles. However, little research has been published on the utilization of synthetic analogs to costly biomolecules or the use of stable engineered protein variants in wound healing constructs. The long-term goal of this project is to generate a better understanding of natural polymer-based wound healing materials and the cellular responses towards these materials for implementation. Now that a synthetic collagen strand analog has been synthesized, the next step towards this goal is to observe and compare cellular responses towards nanofiber scaffolds prepared from this synthetic analog with collagen-containing nanofiber scaffolds. Over this summer, our lab will continue to produce bioresponsive fiber scaffolds containing a novel synthetic collagen strand analog and we will observe cellular responses to these scaffolds. Studies will specifically observe cell viability, proliferation, adhesion, morphology, and spreading.


Dr. Ruth Plymale - Biology

Statement of Research Interest


Professors with NASA-Funded Research (Summer 2020)


Dr. Joe Bradshaw - Chemistry

Statement of Research Interest


Dr. Angela Douglass - Physics

Statement of Research Interest


Dr. Jim Taylor - Biology

The establishment of species for long term space travel or for the establishment of colonies on other planets has been a long term goal of NASA for some time.   This study will investigate the slime mold Physarum polycephalum and Spirulina sp. as a possible long term productive culture.  These findings will give insight into how a simple organism responds to environments necessary for space flight and how photosynthesizing organisms may respond to the conditions found in long term space flight or outpost establishment on another planet/moon.  The research includes culturing on plates or in aqueous media and analyzing the responses of the cultures to the influences of gravity, light and nutrients.

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