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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 2022, you must complete an application.

The application process for Summer 2022 will occur in early Spring 2022. 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 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. 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 Tuesday, March 8, 2022.

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 Monday, March 14, 2022.

 

Professors with Patterson-Funded Research (Summer 2022)

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, 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.

PORPHYRINS AS POTENTIAL PHOTODYNAMIC THERAPY AGENTS

In the past students in my research lab have synthesized water-soluble porphyrins for potential treatment of cancer such as breast cancer using photodynamic therapy (PDT).  During the summer of 2022 students in my lab will examine whether the insertion of the zinc ion into the porphyrin core impacts the phototoxicity of the porphyrins on human non-small cell lung cancer cells.

PREDICTING WATERMELON SWEETNESS USING RESONANT FREQUENCIES

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, with the most common being the “thumping” method. This project is aimed at finding if there is a connection between the sound produced by a thump and the sugar content of a watermelon. After the thump signal is captured, we use a Brix optical interferometer to determine the sweetness in the watermelon juice. The larger the brix value, the sweeter the watermelon. Any value over 10 brix is outstanding. We continue by cleaning the thump signal of background noise digitally and then use a computer program to determine the unique frequencies within the thump using a process call Fast Fourier Transform (FFT). Over the past two summers, we have been compiling and cataloging similar brix FFT outputs to determine if there is a frequency shift or a specific frequency present as a watermelon becomes sweeter. Even with limited data, we are noticing a shift in the frequencies which has allowed us to being predicting the sweetness of watermelons before cutting them open. This summer, more data needs to be collected to better refine our predictive process, especially at the higher brix values. Second, I also hope to contact local growers to see if they will allow us to come to their fields and monitor the change in frequencies of a sample of watermelons as they mature on the vine. This may even lead to a better time to pick the watermelon for optimal sweetness. If a student is also versed in programming, I would like to continue the app development for a phone, which would make this process available to everyone.

OBU SUN-TRACKING SOLAR PANEL

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. This system is unique in that is employs passive tracking using shape memory alloys (SMAs). The main focus of this summer is optimizing the system that resets the solar panel to the morning position, testing of the rotor and full assembly, and improvement of the frame.

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.

Despite the reduction of BPA in current food packaging, BPA is still found in many everyday items, including feminine hygiene products.  Does this mean that items like panty liners are a potential source of BPA for women and girls?  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 feminine hygiene products.

Dr. Kwekel is in the process of starting a zebrafish laboratory. This requires establishing optimized protocols for basic care parameters including water quality and feeding. This project would examine feeding parameters for developing and adult fish. The student would be involved in literature review and implementation of best practices to establish standard operating procedures for the OBU Zebrafish Laboratory. Both dry (flake) and live (brine shrimp) diets will be implemented. The student will learn about zebrafish husbandry and laboratory maintenance; establish and optimize working protocols for zebrafish care, and help organize laboratory space for care and necropsy.

The second project involves protocols for preparation of fresh tissue samples for microscopic analysis and histology. This project would have students evaluate and implement necropsy procedures conducive to tissue preparation, embedding, sectioning, staining for microscopic analysis. The student would establish standard operating procedures for histological tissue prep and create working protocols for the zebrafish laboratory. Student would receive proper training for all necropsy procedures (anesthesia, dissection, and sample preparation) and must be willing to handle live and dissected fish.

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.

THE EFFECT OF GIBBERELLIC ACID (GA3) APPLIED TO THE LEAVES OF BRASSICA RAPA

and Further Study of Differing Light and Gravity Conditions on the Development of Physarum polycephalum

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. Several possible studies will be proposed for students to choose from. This study will investigate Gibberellic Acid (GA3) effect on germination and early development of the plants Arabidopsisthaliana and Brassica rapa which can be studied across different light sources and possible gravitational influences. The slime molds Physarum polycephalum and Dictyostelium discoideum can be utilized to determine the influences of light and gravitational effects on development giving insight to possible long term space travel. The final species is Spirulina platensis, a cyanobacterium which is being utilized not only as a food supplement but can also be integrated into long term space travel by “scrubbing” Carbon Dioxide from the cabin of a space craft and generating Oxygen for the occupants. These findings can 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 2022)

NOVEL MATERIALS FOR MODERN WOUND DRESSINGS

Electrospinning macromolecules like chitosan, collagen, dermatan sulfate, and hyaluronic acid 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 in biomedical applications. Now that collagen and dermatan sulfate/hyaluronic acid synthetic analogs have been prepared in our lab, the next step towards this goal is to observe and compare cellular responses towards nanofiber scaffolds prepared from these synthetic analogs with control scaffolds. Over this summer, our lab will continue to produce bioresponsive fiber scaffolds containing a novel synthetic collagen analog and we will focus on observing cellular responses to these scaffolds. Studies will specifically observe cell viability, proliferation, adhesion, morphology, and spreading. We will also continue to incorporate proteins or small molecule therapeutics into our novel nanofiber mats and will observe the release rates of the payloads from these mats. Additionally, we will continue to explore the synthesis and development of degradable nanofiber mats and further explore the release of small drug molecules from innately therapeutic electrospun scaffolds.

MICRORNA AS A NEW THERAPY FOR LUNG CANCER

Our summer research will focus on identifying new treatments for lung cancer and is done in collaboration with faculty at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). The environment of tumors is hypoxic (low oxygen) and becomes even more so after exposure to radiation therapy. Prior work in our lab helped identify genes that, when up-regulated, increased the ability of the lung cancer cells to survive chemotherapy. However, while we know what genes are responsible for chemotherapy resistance, the available drugs and treatments for their knockout are toxic. As a way around this situation, we used bioinformatics to identify micro-RNAs that are non-toxic and regulate the expression of target genes. Students will examine the effectiveness of these microRNA on lung cancer cell lines. Students will be expected to present their work at multiple conferences, including the AR-INBRE meeting.

 

Professors with HVEDI-Funded Research (Summer 2022)

In summer 2022, Dr. Plymale and her research students will work to further knowledge of interactions between Gordoniaphage and host bacteria. This research will be part of the Host-Virus Evolutionary Dynamics Institute (HVEDI). Students will conduct host range assays by challenging Gordonia lacunae, G. rubripertincta, and G. westfalica with Gordoniaphage initially isolated on G. terrae. This data will be used to calculate Efficiency of Plating values for each host-virus combination. Students will also carry out on growth curves of uninfected Gordonia sp. host bacteria and bacteria infected with a Gordoniaphage. Following data collection, the R software package will be used to analyze and plot the data.

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