Degree being sought: Polymer Science BS
Institution: University of Southern Mississippi
Research group: Morgan Research Group
Hometown: Union, MS
Give a brief synopsis of research/work being done:
For my capstone and Honors thesis project, I work with Ashleigh Bristol, a graduate student, on synthesizing anionic, acrylamide-based polymers via aqueous reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer polymerization (aRAFT) for determination of structure/binding interactions with the protein gliadin and other food-based proteins. Gliadin is a component within gluten that triggers the irregular T-cell response causing deterioration of the small intestines in celiac disease (CeD) patients. Currently 1% of the population has the genetic predisposition for CeD and there is no cure. In order to address this condition, further understanding of the polymer/protein binding interactions within the CeD biological process is needed.
We hypothesize poly(acrylamide methyl butonate) (AMBA) will prove to be an efficient sequestrant of food based proteins due to its weak anionic strength and hydrophobic character and that polymer degree of polymerization (DP 25 and 15) will have an effect on polymer/ protein interactions that can influence the use of poly (AMBA) as a therapeutic agent. So far, we have successfully synthesized the chain transfer agent cyanopentanoic acid dithiobenzoate (CEP) as well as the AMBA monomer, and we are currently evaluating the reaction kinetics for the polymer. The polymer will be characterized via light scattering, 1H-NMR, and MALDI-TOF-MS to ensure the correct DP’s were synthesized. To ensure the polymer selectivity of gliadin over similar food proteins, a binding assay will be performed to analyze the binding strength of the polymer to food proteins
From your current perspective, what do you see as an ideal fit for your skills, goals and career moving forward?
Through mentoring younger polymer science majors though the polymer applications rotational program, I see myself as being a team-orientated project leader in either industry or government research institution.
What's an interesting (personal) fact about yourself?
I grew up on a small farm where in high school I fed the farm animals and gathered the new chicken eggs before class. My favorite goat’s name was Jenny.
Why did you choose USM?
Since I was 5, one could find me cheering on the Golden Eagles at the Rock and dreaming of one day be able to cheer them on in the student section. Both my grandparents and parents attended the University of Southern Miss and have now been inducted into the University’s Hall of Fame. By attending USM, I hope to fulfill the Payne legacy at USM as well as be the first to graduate from the nationally recognized Polymer Science Program that USM has to offer.
What USM-related scholarships did you receive?
2016-2017 Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship- top academic distinction offered at junior colleges that provides academic scholarship to senior colleges
2016-2018 Transfer Scholar- an academic scholarship awarded on the basis of academic achievement and record of leadership at a community college.
2016-2017 Polymer Science Scholarship- an academic scholarship awarded by Polymer Science faculty to an outstanding student majoring in Polymer Science Scholar Athlete Award, ECCC
2016 Phi Theta Kappa Graduate-top academic distinction offered at ECCC.
2016-2018 Honors College, Keystone Scholar-will receive Latin distinction upon graduation after completing a comprehensive exam and undergraduate thesis.
2015 Freshman Chemistry Award- awarded by chemistry professor to student with the highest overall grade average in General Chemistry I and II, ECCC
2014-2016 HOSA Scholarship- Placed 1st in state for Biomedical Debate that resulted in a scholarship, ECCC
2014-2016 Presidential Scholarship- awarded to select students who have demonstrated high academic achievement and leadership skills, ECCC
2014-2016 ACT Scholarship-scholarship awarded to students with a 27 or above on ACT, ECCC
Who or what influenced your USM education the most?
I am very fortunate to have joined a supportive research group that has given me excellent role models who have greatly assisted my development as a scientist. I can always rely on my research group to lift me up as I prepare for an exam or for an important deadline and to always give encouragement.
What are your plans for next year and beyond?
I plan on attending graduate school to pursue a Ph.D in a polymer or chemistry related field. I plan to continue an offshoot of the research completed from my senior thesis project where I plan to look at antimicrobial polymer mimics at the surfaces and interfaces of protein based disorders.
While at USM, what other accomplishments/activities are you most proud of?
My proudest research accomplishment was achieving an internship at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) working for Dr. Rachel Martin. While at UCI, I characterized a protein from the carnivorous plant, Drosera capensis, and found that it was capable of undergoing vesicle fusion with bacteria and yeast lipids, thus proving that the protease had antimicrobial characteristics
My proudest nonacademic activity has been being apart of the Polymer Science Association outreach team, which enabled me to be a guest lecturer and share my experiences in Polymer Science local community college in order to encourage higher STEM education.
What was one of your greatest challenges attending USM?
My greatest challenge was adjusting to a large university where I did not know everybody on campus. I graduated high school with a class of 60 students and graduated with my Associates in Science from a small junior college, so I am used to always knowing everyone on campus. Upon transferring, I had to quickly adjust to a larger scale. However, I soon found the Polymer Science program as its own small subsection of USM where everybody in the program is very close net. The polymer science program at USM is its own little family.