Students in the Patterson School for Natural Sciences may participate in faculty-mentored experimental research during the academic year or during the summer.
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.
If you are interested in doing summer research at OBU in Summer 2018, you must complete an application. The application process for Summer 2018 will occur in early Spring 2018. Choosing a good faculty mentor is a important aspect of a successful research project.
If you are accepted:
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 design, construct, and test a sun-tracking solar panel that could be used on Ouachita’s campus. 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.
The medical imaging device known as a Computer Tomography (CT) instrument is an invaluable piece of diagnostic equipment. A CT machine is very costly, and often extremely large. In this project, a student and I will design, assemble, and test a smaller-scale, lower-cost, low-powered CT machine that could be used to image objects such as deceased mice. The project will include design and fabrication of a rotating sample stand and mount for x-ray source and programming an Arduino for machine control and compilation of 2D images.
Dr. Kevin Cornelius – Physics
Watermelon, a wonderful summer treat. One of the challenges people have is how to pick out a good or sweet one. Various techniques exist, but they are not very consistent. This summer, I propose to take one of the most popular methods, the thump test, and attempt to determine if the sound of the thump can be correlated to its sweetness based on the vibrational frequencies produced. There will be three key aspects to this project: designing and building a consistent “thumping” device, recording and analyzing sound frequencies produced by the thumping device, and measuring the sugar content of a watermelon. After enough data has been collected, work will begin to determine if a correlation can be made between frequencies and sweetness.
Dr. Jim Taylor – Biology
The establishment of plant systems 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 Spirulina sp. as a possible long term productive culture and the response of Arabidopsis to the altered conditions of hypobaria, Oxygen and CO2 concentrations in a hydroponic solution with rock wool as the growing substrate. These findings will give insight into how photosynthesizing organisms may respond to the conditions found in long term space flight or outpost establishment on another planet/moon.
Previous experiments in this lab have determined that the cyano-bacterium Spirulina develops well exposed to blue or red light at relatively low intensities (Ruggeri et al, 2016) and that Arabidopsis can grow well at 50% atmosphere for the first few weeks of germination and development with supplemented carbon dioxide (CO2). These experiments will seek to evaluate the pigments and proteins responsible for Spirulina development in red or blue lighting regimens and utilize hypobaria (50% of atmosphere) and increased O2 and CO2 during the development of wildtype Arabidopsis from seed to seed. This will help determine morphological development in a hypobaric scenario and the influence of the increase of partial pressure of O2 and CO2 on germination, growth and the photosynthetic response of Arabidopsis. Previous experiments have shown mixed results on red and blue light effects of Spirulina growth so the experiments must be “fine-tuned” to determine the best scenario for the cyanobacterium’s growth. A problem which has arisen with the Arabidopsis in hypobaria is the lack of consistency with the growth medium for the plants. Soil worked okay in previous experiments but soil is not the best medium for plant growth in low pressure conditions. These experiments will incorporate a new medium (rock wool) which has been demonstrated to do well in hypobaric conditions ( Dannehl et.al.: 2015).
Dr. Joe Bradshaw – Chemistry
The primary problem to be addressed by this research project is the development of more efficient solar cells for use in long-term space flight. The utilization of molecular systems for solar energy conversion requires the rational design and synthesis of chromophoric arrays that can absorb light across a large fraction of the solar spectrum and direct that energy toward catalytic sites for chemical fuel generation, or semi-conductor electrode surfaces for electrical charge production. The development of efficient light harvesting systems that mimic natural photosynthetic systems requires a structure-function relationship between donor and acceptor chromophores.
Students will be synthesizing new zinc(II) porphyrin materials (Figure 1) and incorporating TAMRA-azide (Figure 2), a carboxytetramethylrhodamine derivative. TAMRA will be added to the porphyrin core using “click” chemistry. Incorporating this substituent on the periphery of the porphyrin would address the goal of using porphyrins in broad-band light harvesting. After formation, these porphyrins will be characterized spectroscopically (IR, UV-vis, NMR). Finally, the ability of these novel porphyrins to behave as solar efficient materials will be tested.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a technique capable of producing images of anatomy in fine detail. Often, MRI depends on a contrast agent being administered to the patient to enhance the contrast difference between normal, healthy tissue and diseased tissue. There are many types of contrast agents already in use that improve the images produced by MRI significantly. These agents utilize gadolinium. A very recent finding (fall of 2017) has demonstrated that repeated use of gadolinium-based MRI contrast agents may present a health risk to patients. The goal of this research is to synthesize MRI contrast agents that use carbon nano-onions (CNOs) which have been shown to have little toxicity, functionalizing their surface and incorporating manganese to produce a novel MRI contrast material. By using these novel CNO-MRI contrast materials imaging of specific molecular targets should allow for earlier diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of patients. This research project involves the synthesis, purification, and measuring the relaxation rates for novel manganese-based contrast media utilizing CNOs for targeting specific tissues.
Dr. Tim Hayes – Chemistry
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 which there is currently no satisfactory treatment is triple-negative breast cancer. We would like to test the efficacy of our PDT agents against triple-negative breast cancer cells.
Several series of 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 transport across the blood-brain barrier. 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 several porphyrin derivatives to characterize their utility as agents for photodynamic therapy. We will test the toxicity of these compounds with and without light exposure, assay whether they kill the cells by inducing apoptosis, and look for where the compounds localize in the cells. 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
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 epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastics 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 exhibits 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 determine if BPA is leaching out of infant oral hygiene products and, if so, to monitor the amount and rate at which the BPA is contaminating the water.
Dr. Detri Brech – Dietetics and Nutrition
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 11 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. Ruth Plymale – Biology
In my lab, we have been working with bacteria that produce antibiotics. We have isolated these bacteria from soil and determined that they produce antibiotics because they can inhibit the growth of two common lab bacteria–Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli. But, in order to determine if these antibiotics might be medically useful, we need to know what other microbes they can inhibit. This summer, students will be screening antibiotic-producing bacteria for their ability to inhibit Gram positive and negative bacterial pathogens, a yeast pathogen, and a mycobacterial pathogen surrogate.
Dr. Blake Johnson – Biology
Serine proteases are commonly overexpressed in a variety of epithelial tumor types, where increased expression of these enzymes results in the digestion of neighboring matrix components critical to initial tumor growth and, ultimately, the biological process of tumor metastasis. The cell surface serine protease Hepsin (HPN) is frequently overexpressed in prostate cancer, where it functions to promote tumor development, progression and metastasis. Based on the cell surface accessibility of this enzyme in disease progression, Hepsin represents an attractive therapeutic target in prostate cancer. In collaboration with UAMS, our lab is interested in evaluating the potential cytostatic, cytotoxic and anti-metastatic properties of previously generated anti-Hepsin monoclonal antibodies using an in vitro cell culture model of human prostate cancer, LNCaP. Students will use a combination of cellular, molecular and biochemical techniques to evaluate the anti-tumor responses of the selected monoclonal antibodies in vitro.
Dr. Nathan Reyna – Biology
In 2015, I received funding through the State NSF EPSCoR Center for Advanced Surface Engineering (CASE) grant. This is a five-year collaborative project with faculty at both ASU and UAMS and is broadly focused on understanding how neurons differentiate when grown on extracellular matrices. This summer at Ouachita, our project will have two focuses. 1) we will measure gene expression of known (targeted) genes such as Dali, a non-coding RNA structure that has recently been shown to regulate neuron development. Our second focus will be a transcriptome (all RNA produced by the cell) analysis of exosome using RNA sequencing techniques and bioinformatic analysis. We will study the differences in both the mRNA and micro-RNA content found in these exosomes. The data collected will help us to understand how changes in exosomal cargo helps drive cell differentiation. Students working in my lab will learn basic molecular biology techniques. However, student working on project 1 (Dali gene expression) will have an additional focus relating to the development of cell culture techniques. Project 2 will have a focus on data analysis using bioinformatics. Students working in my lab will be expect to present their research at multiple off campus scientific meetings. Please indicate which project you are most interested in.