Science majors cap summer of research with presentations

PLAINVIEW – Not everyone understands the world of molecules and meticulous measuring that is the life of a college science major. But four such students were really in their element recently as they presented posters at the Southwest Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society held in Houston. The group then attended the Welch Foundation Chemical Research Conference immediately afterward.

Seniors Philip Carlson and Marcia Peck, junior Lori Pretzer and post-baccalaureate student Vanessa Carey traveled with their advisors, Dr. Joel Boyd and Dr. Adam Reinhart, to the ACS conference to participate in poster presentations featuring an overview of their summer research projects.

During these sessions, students stand in an exhibit hall with their posters – large 6-foot-by-4-foot laminated sheets – and explain their work to the session visitors as they come by. The experience proves valuable for students.

“There is a mix of industry representatives, government entities and major universities from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico who come to these events,” said Boyd, assistant professor of chemistry and the research advisor for Carlson and Pretzer. “Being able to see the other end of science is a benefit for students. If we can do this in the lab but can’t communicate it, nothing is accomplished.”

Carlson and Pretzer spent part of the Spring 2006 semester doing book research for their project before diving in headfirst in the summer for the lab work. Their projects dealt with using titanium dioxide to remove other substances from water, using a procedure that deposits the substances onto acrylic materials. Pretzer, a chemistry major who plans a career in medicine, specifically was removing ammonia from water, while Carlson, a chemistry major who plans a career in research, worked to remove nitrates.

Reinhart’s students studied the use of medicinal plants to kill tumor cells, hitting the books for the background work in the spring before hitting the lab. Peck, a biology major who plans a career in international epidemiology, studied the use of plants to kill adrenal tumor cells. Carey, a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University who is at Wayland picking up courses to prepare for medical school, used plants to kill Leydig cell tumors.

“We had picked plants that have been shown to be used as anti-inflammatory substances and researched whether they would kill tumor cells,” explained Reinhart, associate professor of biological sciences at WBU. “We found that in some cases, the tumor cells actually killed each other off.”

The summer research program started last summer, thanks in large part to a grant from the Welch Foundation which helped cover costs of lab work and funding for students to work. While the experiences have been valuable for students as they prepare for graduate work, medical schools or other allied health preparation, Boyd and Reinhart say the well-rounded experience must include the presentation aspect.

“It’s so good for our students to see that their work is every bit as good as anything out there,” Boyd said, adding that he has submitted a paper for publication with Carlson’s work, and the pair has filed a provisional patent for the materials they created during the research.

Pretzer said the summer opened her eyes to a whole new world. A native of Glendale, Ariz., Pretzer said she’s always known she wanted to be a doctor, but the chemistry research was fascinating as well. She enjoyed the hands-on experience and the interaction with professors that was more like working with colleagues. Though initially she was intimidated by the project, she said her understanding grew and things began to make more sense.

Carlson, a native of Sublette, Kan., said the presentations gave him experience in sharing his work with an audience who is more familiar with the terminology and technical aspects.

“It was good to talk to people who care about your research and know what is going on,” he said. “They were able to give me suggestions as well. This is a project I’d like to pursue more in the future.”

For Carey, the summer of research solidified her calling to medicine and pointed her in a specific direction. Raised in Duncan, Okla., she found an interest in medicine while doing mission work in the Philippines. Working with the medicinal plants for the summer, Carey said she felt God leading her in the direction of cancer research and found far more affinity for it than she anticipated.

“I was much more comfortable with this type of information than I thought I’d be,” she said. “Wayland does an amazing job of preparing you for these experiences. I’ve had lots of challenges but I can’t imagine getting a better education in science.”

The students have continued their summer research into the fall term and will each be writing undergraduate theses to complete their education.