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 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.
We will make every effort to announce the matches by Friday, March 8, 2019.
If you are accepted:
Dr. Sharon Hamilton – Chemistry
Synthesis of biomimetic poly(acrylic acid)-based polymers towards modern wound healing materials
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 development of non-amino acid-based synthetic analogs to costly biomolecules like collagen. The lack of studies in this area is due in part to the recent popularity of peptide synthesis which allows small peptide sequences from collagen to be easily prepared. 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. As a step towards this goal, a synthetic collagen strand analog must be synthesized and electrospun with co-polymers to be compared with collagen nanofiber scaffolds prepared with co-polymers. Over this summer, our lab will strive to develop bioresponsive fiber scaffolds containing a novel synthetic collagen strand analog that we will produce. The fibers will be prepared with chitosan, a renewable biopolymer, and polyvinyl alcohol, a synthetic polymer. The fiber scaffolds will be characterized and analyzed and eventually evaluated for cellular toxicity, adhesion, and proliferation.
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 ongoing projects including 1) using genomics to understand the effects of colonization and local adaptation on song sparrows in Alaska, 2) using bird and plant surveys to examine habitat use, and 3) using genetic techniques to conserve endangered plants. These projects would provide students with experience in the analysis of genomic data using bioinformatics tools, the use of field survey techniques, the analysis of ecological data, and with 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. Kevin Cornelius – Physics
Correlating Sonic Vibrations and Sweetness in Watermelons
Last summer, I began a project to look at the possible connection between the sound a thump makes when flicking a watermelon and its sweetness. We were looking for a frequency or set of frequencies that only appear in the sweeter watermelons. We constructed a thumping device to consistently produce sound samples for nearly 100 watermelons. The results were very promising, but a bit noisy and limited in number. This summer will be focused on fine tuning the process. I hope to determine the best way to thump a watermelon to produce a sound vibration with the least amount of noise and continue collecting data samples.
Dr. Jim Taylor – Biology
The Determination of Cellulose Production in Dictyostelium discoideum Psuedoplasmodium in Differing Light and Gravity Conditions and the Isolation of Pigments in Spirulina sp. Exposed to Red and Blue Light
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 Dictyostelium discoideum 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 and be used to “scrub” carbon dioxide and provide oxygen while producing nutrition for the astronauts on the mission.
Dr. Joe Bradshaw – Chemistry
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 2019 students in my lab will examine whether the insertion of a metal ion into the porphyrin core impacts photo-cytotoxicity of the porphyrins.
This summer a student in the lab will look at modifying the surface of carbon nano-onions and whether this surface modification has an effect on growth of neurons. The student attempt to form charged nanoparticles and determine whether these charged nano materials assist in the growth of neuron tissue better than that of neutral nano-onion material.
This summer a student in the lab will look at the synthesis of a new copper compound to model copper containing proteins/enzymes that occur naturally. Some of these copper enzymes include hemocyanin which is a protein that is found in mollusks that carries oxygen in much the same way as hemoglobin carries oxygen in human blood.
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. Ruth Plymale – Biology
Characterization of Antimicrobial Bacteria Effective Against ESKAPE Pathogens
Antibiotic resistance is a global health crisis, with the ESKAPE pathogens, a group of six multidrug-resistant bacterial species, causing the majority of antibiotic resistant infections and deaths. Previous research has identified several antibiotic-producing soil bacteria that qualitatively inhibit Gram negative ESKAPE pathogens (Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacter aerogenes). This project proposes to investigate the therapeutic potential of these antibiotic-producing bacteria. In this project, students will use whole-genome sequencing to classify a novel strain of Alcaligenes with antimicrobial properties against K. pneumoniae, A. baumannii, and E. aerogenes. Concurrently, students will quantitate the spectrums of activity of antimicrobial compounds secreted by this Alcaligenes strain and other antibiotic-producing soil bacteria against ESKAPE pathogens.
Dr. Blake Johnson – Biology
The glycophosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchor is a lipid and glycan modification added to the C-terminus of substrate proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum via the multi-subunit GPI transamidase, or GPIT. Several subunits of GPIT, namely GPAA1, have previously been characterized as oncogenes across a variety of tumor types, specifically breast cancer where it contributes to enhanced cellular invasion. Interestingly, a C septicum alpha toxin enrichment strategy has previously documented significantly elevated plasma levels of GPI anchored proteins occurring in glioma patients relative to non-malignant controls. Furthermore, we have previously uncovered significant increases in GPIT subunit levels occurring to GBM, relative to normal human astrocyte controls, which corresponded with increases in GPI anchored protein content. In our current research, we aim to evaluate the effect of global signaling alterations in GBM (e.g., EGFR amplification/mutation) on GPIT subunit expression levels using human model of GBM, U87-MG. Collectively, these studies will better our understanding of the effects of mutant EGFR signaling on GPI anchor biosynthesis, and the therapeutic potential for GPIT inhibition in GBM.
Dr. Nathan Reyna – Biology
Role of Exosomes in Cell Development and Differentiation
This summer our research focus is in understanding how biologically-inspired nano-structures can serves as an extracellular matrix for neuron growth and development. Currently we are looking at the role exosomes play in neuron differentiation. Exosomes are extracellular vesicles ranging in size from 40 to 100nm and are used for extracellular communication and to control the cell niche environment related to differentiation. Previous studies in our lab have shown that exosomes isolated from differentiating neurites can cause differentiation in cells absent typical neuronal hormones. However, those studies only used exosomes isolated after complete differentiation. We propose that exosomes taken from different days will contain varying information causing altered levels of differentiation when added back to PC12 cells. Our second project is related to Glioblastoma and exosome production. Glioblastoma is a lethal type of cancer that forms a tumor in the brain or spinal column. Glioblastoma cells (U87) are derived from astrocytes, which are a type of supportive cell in the nervous system. Because glioblastoma is aggressive, there is a small chance of survival once diagnosed. One aspect that is poorly understood is how cancer cells such as Glioblastoma use exosome to control their surrounding environment. Funding for this project was provided by the Cell Biology Education Consortium and through the AR-EPSCoR Center for Advanced Surface Engineering.
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.