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McMurry University Science Students Give Research Presentations

ABILENE, Texas – Two McMurry University science students presented talks this week on their research projects. Jonathan Urbancyzk, biomedical science major and participant in the Welch summer research program, spoke about his research into a novel antibiotic targeting gram-negative bacteria. Sheharyar Khan, a physics major, presented his design of an air supported structure.

Urbancyzk addressed the problem of pathogens in hospitals.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa) and many other Gram-negative opportunistic pathogens plague hospitals by causing nosocomial infections. Due to the continual bacterial resistance towards commercially available antibiotics, there is a great need for a new generation of antibiotics. One promising target is the zinc-dependent metalloamidase, UDP-3-O-(R-3-hydroxymyristoyl)-N-acetylglucosamine deacetylase (LpxC), which is the first committed step of Lipid A biosynthesis in Gram-negative bacteria. LpxC is an essential enzyme that is encoded by a single copy gene that is conserved in almost all Gram-negative bacteria.

In is presentation, Urbancyzk said “We hypothesize that small molecules that are able to bind to zinc have the potential to be inhibitors of LpxC. The synthesis of small molecules containing phenanthroline and hydroxamate moieties easily coordinate with metal ions including zinc. An antibiotic susceptibility assay was conducted with 3-(1H-imidazo[4,5-f][1,10]phenanthrolin-2-yl)phenol (HIPP), testing inhibition against P. aeruginosa. In addition, modeling experiments that have shown an enhanced binding affinity of these compounds with the active site of P. aeruginosa LpxC.”

Khan presented his Design of an air supported structure. The objective of this project was to design an air supported structure (practice bubble) for use of all McMurry athletics on McMurry property. The design of the practice bubble is similar to that of professional teams and other universities nationwide so that athletics may practice with protection from inclement weather.

He also performed a load analysis on the structure to further understand the physics and engineering behind the construction of a practice bubble. Furthermore, a cost analysis was also performed to determine the cost of building and maintaining a bubble here at McMurry. The design and load analysis was performed using the computer program commonly used by professional engineers, SolidWorks.

Student research is the norm for the sciences at McMurry. Students are involved in research from freshman level biomedical science classes to required senior capstone projects. Some of the students participate in the honors program, but a research project is expected of every Biology, Biomedical

Science, and Physics student as a requirement for a degree. Many of our classrooms are designed to facilitate a smooth transition between lecture and lab, and equipped with instrumentation and equipment that allows for immediate experimentation and analysis. Other areas were designed to provide for longer term projects, where students can work without disrupting classes or in the evenings.

The Welch Foundation supports a strong summer chemistry research program. McMurry students are doing important work toward finding better antibiotics for gram-negative bacterial infections, finding ways to inhibit cancer cell proliferation, and synthesizing compounds that promote the destruction of cancer cells with light. Chemistry professors supervising these projects are Dr. Hyunshun Shin and Dr. Edward Donnay.

Physics capstone projects have included a working hydrogen fuel cell, an unmanned remote-reconnaissance carbon fiber airplane, a wrist-watch sized sonic dog deterrent for runners, and a magnetic rail gun. Physics faculty members who supervise these projects are Dr. Tikhon Bykov, Dr. Wayne Keith, and Dr. Timothy Renfro.

Field biology students have been working on two major research projects with Dr. Joel Brant. They have been monitoring rodent population in the Southern Rolling plains and documenting how the animals have been affected by human activity. More recently, the students have been investigating a change in mole populations. Mole populations are increasing in the Big Country, so the students are working on isolating some of the reasons why that might be so! Dr. Tierney Brosius is just beginning a new project, studying blowflies and how they are attracted to decomposing tissue. She is involving students in doing geographic diversity studies which are important in determining the blowfly species that may be found at crime scenes and will ultimately aid in post mortem interval estimations.

Dr. Alicia Wyatt, dean of the School of Natural and Computational Sciences, described McMurry’s approach to undergraduate research. “At McMurry, we want to provide an education where our students can achieve excellence in science as well as developing leadership skills and the desire to help others. Student research is a natural environment for developing leadership qualities. In order to successfully complete a project, one must be an independent and critical thinker, possessed of self-discipline and patience, and also able to take and delegate responsibility for work conducted by a team. Student driven capstone projects demonstrate key characteristics of leadership: assessing a problem rallying resources, developing a plan for successful completion, driving the plan forward. Students also have some serious conversations about integrity and ethics in the context of research and academic endeavor. A service-minded preference is presented in many courses where health issues are explored, from the basic scientific aspects to the impact these concerns may have on individual lives and whole societies.

A research oriented academic experience improves our currency and agility as a faculty, while keeping the focus on student-centered learning. We find great satisfaction in the increasing number of posters and presentations given at regional and national conferences. Our students sometimes find themselves sharing space with graduate students and holding their own! Many of these students have successfully moved from undergraduate research to graduate research or entrance into professional school. All of these things validate an approach where students master a field of expertise, apply what they’ve learned in a novel situation where the answer is not known (even by the instructor!), work with a team to collect and analyze data, and present their findings to a critical audience. Science may happen in a lab with microscopes and test tubes, in the machine shop with a lathe and voltmeter, or out in a pasture with rodent traps. But it happens. And it is exciting!”