Undergraduate Research

Historically, undergraduate research has been an important component of our program since its inception. With the help of the Welch Foundation, supporting research in chemistry, and with additional funding from the university, the involvement of students and faculty in undergraduate research has markedly increased. The faculty's approach to research is to engage students in the process of conducing science, not by telling students what to do to complete some project designed by someone else, but by mentoring them through the process of understanding a topic, then designing and conducting the research necessary to explain something about that topic.

Students engaged in our research do so through faculty approval of enrolling in a one, two, or three credit hour course with the prefix MSCI (i.e. MSCI 4103, MSCI 4203, MSCI 4303). In many instances students continue their projects across two or more semesters and write a thesis, and several programs encourage this path for students planning on graduate or professional school, but it is not required.

The major topic areas presently available to students include:

  1. Isolation and physiochemical characterization of cancer cell cytotoxins from plant extracts.
  2. Effects of plant extracts on cancer cell growth.
  3. Development of a wide-application documentation system.
  4. Investigation of DNA-binding protein in Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

The culmination of both independent and course-level research projects is presentation of findings at a scientific meeting. The School of Mathematics and Sciences also hosts a Spring Research Day, at which students present findings from their research in either poster formats or oral presentations. Informal awards are presented at a closing ceremony for the winners of the participating students.

Recent Abstracts Presented by WBU Chemistry Students

“Examining binding affinity of RecA to mutation sites known to cause drug resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis with a homemade DSLR documentation system”. Kenneson, J. School of Mathematics and Sciences, Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, TX, USA.

A high-end DSLR camera was employed for analysis of protein-DNA interaction using chemiluminescent electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSAs) in order to study binding affinity of DNA repair protein, RecA, and selected Mycobacterium tuberculosis oligomers. Mini-format chemiluminescent, fluorescent, and large-format chemiluminescent EMSAs were used to determine percent RecA binding. Decrease in free DNA signal indicates RecA did bind to DNA, though a bound DNA band was not resolved in any of the three types of EMSAs. Future research will involve further examination of this protein-DNA interaction in order to determine why the complex is not migrating into the EMSAs. The culmination of the last three years of research has shown that the DSLR documentation system has a multitude of applications not know that could prove to be beneficial to many people.


“Soxhlet extraction of capsaicinoids from habanero, piquin, and serrano peppers”. Duffield, K.; Rivera, A.; Sandoval, E. School of Mathematics and Sciences, Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, TX, USA.

The Scoville Scale is a subjective scale obtained through individual taste tests that ranks peppers based on the amount of sugar water it takes to take the heat out of capsaicin extracted from a pepper. This test is performed on individuals, and is subject to variances in sensitivity and amount of heat receptors from person to person, causing it to lose representative aspects. Capsaicin is an alkaloid chemical that is the principal pungent constituent of hot peppers that are widely used as food additives. But how much capsaicin is contained in your average pepper, and is that relatable to the number of Scoville units assigned to each pepper? Capsaicin was extracted from serrano, habanero, and piquin peppers using a Soxhlet extraction. Each pepper extraction along with a capsaicin standard were dissolved in methanol and further characterized via HPLC (C18-0-75% methanol gradient over 45 min). The capsaicinoid masses were then compared and ranked based on percent of capsaicin by weight. It was predicted that, based on Scoville units, the Habanero pepper would have the most capsaicin content followed by the Piquín and Serrano peppers. Results showed that predictions were correct based on the Scoville scale. Using soxhlet extraction combined with HPLC methods demonstrates a more chemically analytical approach to determine how spicy peppers truly are.


“Purification of components from Inula hilinium (Elecampane) which are cytotoxic to the 4T1 murine breast cancer cell line”. Kelly, S.; McElwain, T.E.; Rivera, A.M.; Kenneson, J.R.; Burrow, T.; Gray, G.O.; Reinhart, A.J. School of Mathematics and Sciences, Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, TX, USA.

The plant Inula hilinium (elecampane), is a medicinal plant that is found widely throughout England. It has been used as a diuretic, antiseptic, skin cream, and has been used in treating pulmonary diseases. Previous studies in our laboratory have shown elecampane to be cytotoxic to 4T1 murine breast cancer cells. In this study, we sought to isolate and purify specific cytotoxic molecules from elecampane. Powdered elecampane root was refluxed in dichloromethane for 1 hour, the dichloromethane was distilled off and the extract was resuspended in ethanol. The resulting ethanolic extract was size fractionated on a Sephadex LH20 column with 75% ethanol as the mobile phase and initially analyzed through absorbance at 280 nm. Fractions from the column were assayed for cytotoxic effects on 4T1 cells. Cytotoxic fractions were further characterized using HPLC (solid phase: C18, mobile phase: 0-75% methanol gradient over 30 minutes). One peak was identified through HPLC from the most cytotoxic fraction. This peak was collected and further characterized using mass spectroscopic analysis (MALDI TOF). Based on the mass spectroscopic analysis, the most likely size of the cytotoxic molecule isolated through this study was determined to be 440 g/mol. Further research is ongoing to identify this cytotoxic component of elecampane.