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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 2021, you must complete an application. 

The application process for Summer 2021 will occur in early Spring 2021.  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, March 4, 2021. 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 12, 2021.

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 26, 2021.


Professors with Patterson-Funded Research (Summer 2021)

Dr. Detri Brech - Nutrition and Dietetics

Title Project 1: Effects of COVID-19 Lifestyle Changes on Eating Habits of Individuals and Families: Is there an Increase in Obesity and Other Health Problems?

Title Project 2: Assessment of Malnutrition in Elderly Adults Implementing the Nutrition Focused Physical Exam with a Focus on Malnutrition Related to COVID-19 Diagnosis

Two research projects will be conducted: the first project will be to assess the effects of COVID-19 lifestyle changes on eating habits and weight gain increasing additional health risks and the second project will be to assess malnutrition in the elderly population with a focus on the effects of having a COVID-19 infection on malnutrition. For the first project, a review of literature will be conducted to develop a questionnaire that will be sent to all Ouachita faculty and staff.  The goal is to find out if the COVID-19 pandemic changed their eating habits and if they gained weight and had additional health issues because of the pandemic. For the second project, you will be trained to conduct nutrition focused physical exams. We will go to the Arkadelphia Senior Center and exam the elderly to determine if they are at risk for malnutrition especially if they have had a COVID-19 infection. Results from both projects will be analyzed with a paper and project written on each project.

Dr. Kevin Cornelius - Physics

Project I

In the past couple of years, I have been working toward developing an app to help determine the sweetness of a watermelon by the sound from a thump. Last year, I was able to create a program in MATLAB that can analyze large amounts of data from previous years in search of a sweetness sound signature. What we learned is that our data collection process was not precise enough and needs to be modified for more consistent thump sounds. In addition, I would like to begin converting the MATLAB code into XCODE, the apple app language. I am looking for someone with a good attention to detail and creativity problem solving. Some technical knowledge and ability to use a computer for data analysis are needed. Programming skills are not required, but would be a big plus.

Project II

I have been a long-time lover of Astronomy and have always been curious how astronomers measure cosmic distances. When measuring galactic distances, one method that is commonly used is a method known as Parallax, which compares the shift of an object against very distant stars when measured 6 months apart. The amount of shift helps determine its distance. I would like to look at an alternate method by developing a mathematical model relating distance to the size of an object as viewed in a telescope in conjunction with its luminosity – namely big, bright objects are closer than small dim, ones. I plan to calibrate the method using known brightness and distances on the ground and then attempting to apply the method to planets and known stars. Data collection will require the construction of a telescope mount for a webcam as well as some basic knowledge in how to use computer software. There likely will be some late nights when calibrating and for data collection, as both depend on weather and when certain starts/planets come into view.


Dr. Sara Hubbard - Chemistry

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

Dr. Pruett is interested in using genetic and ecological approaches to understand local adaptation and the effects of small population size on long-term population persistence. She primarily studies vertebrate and plant populations. Currently she has three ongoing projects in her lab 1) assessing habitat use and presence of breeding birds at Jack Mountain Wildlife Management Area, 2) using genetic fragment analyses to examine the historical demography and population genetics of rock sandpipers in the Bering Sea region, and 3) using genetic techniques to conserve endangered plants. These projects would provide students with experience in field ecology methods, the analysis of population genetic data, and laboratory-based methods such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and gel electrophoresis. All of these skills would be valuable additions to graduate school or medical school applications. Students working on these projects will be co-authors on scientific publications and presentations.


Dr. Joe Bradshaw - Chemistry

Zinc(II) Porphyrins as Potential Photodynamic Therapy Agents

In the past students in my research lab have synthesized novel water-soluble porphyrins for potential treatment of cancer using photodynamic therapy (PDT).  PDT is a novel treatment method that uses light to treat diseases such as cancer.  Lung cancer is the second most common cancer and it is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.  Currently, the 5-year survival rate of lung cancer is only 24%.  Additionally, 85% of all lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancer. During the summer of 2021, students will examine how the insertion of the Zn2+ ion into the porphyrin core of these novel water-soluble porphyrins affects the phototoxicity of the new materials.  Students will examine the cytotoxicity of these novel zinc porphyrins in the presence and absence of light on the A549 cell line.  The A549 cell line is a human non-small cell lung cancer cell line consisting of adenocarcinoma human alveolar basal epithelial lung cells.


Dr. Angela Douglass - Physics

In order to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and other non-renewable energies, businesses, government agencies, and private citizens are turning more attention to renewable energy alternatives. Renewable energy technology is also useful where it is difficult to obtain traditional forms of energy. This summer, as part of a more general focus on renewable energies, I plan to continue designing, constructing, and testing our sun-tracking solar panel that could be used on Ouachita’s campus. This system is unique in that is employs passive tracking using shape memory alloys (SMAs). The main focus of this summer is the assembly of the rotor housing and connection to the panel, testing of the rotor’s efficiency, and optimization of the rotor and frame. Development, optimization, and implementation of this device could decrease Ouachita’s dependence on non-renewable resources and raise awareness about renewable energy on campus and within the community.


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 Gibberellic Acid (GA3) effect on germination and early development of Arabidopsis across different light sources.  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.

Professors with INBRE or ESPCoR-Funded Research (Summer 2021)

Dr. Nathan Reyna - Biology

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.

Next Steps