UM Professor Part of Upcoming American Chemical Society Webinar

Presentation puts astrochemistry research program in spotlight

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi chemistry professor is offering a glimpse into interstellar molecules and the mysteries of life in space during a free interactive webinar on Thursday (Nov. 1).

Ryan Fortenberry, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UM, will open the discussion, moderate and field questions for the American Chemical Society webinar “An Evolutionary Mystery: Mirror Asymmetry in Life and in Space.” 

Joining Fortenberry for the 1 p.m. webinar is the main speaker, Brett McGuire, a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Life uses molecules of only one type of handedness, including amino acids, sugars and most anything with carbon atoms in it,” said Fortenberry, who joined the Ole Miss faculty in July and serves as chair-elect for the American Chemical Society’s Astrochemistry Subdivision. “If placed in a mirror, your right hand will become your left hand. However, without that mirror, your right hand and your left hand will always be different, opposites in fact.

“Some molecules, especially those involved in life, have a similar property. Can this property be used to find life in space or is it just a fluke that life did this here on Earth?”

Ryan Fortenberry

The single-handedness of life using only one side of the mirror is a geometric property in chemistry known as homochirality, but questions remain, such as how and why this single-handed world emerged.

The webinar will explore this question along with the impact of homochirality on biology and chemical evolution, the potential origins of homochirality and the challenges in studying possible interstellar origins, and the first detection of a chiral interstellar molecule and challenges associated with measuring a potential chiral excess in space.

One of the biggest challenges in studying possible interstellar origins is that conditions of space and even the best conditions of a laboratory are still pretty different, Fortenberry said.

“What we’re studying in space is really far away, making small concentrations of molecules really hard to distinguish from any noise we get in our instruments,” he said. “Also, there’s a lot of stuff in space, since it’s so big.

“Hence, you may think you’re looking at a faraway star, but it’s really just a cloud of molecules between here and there.”

A Clinton native, Fortenberry runs the Computational Astrochemistry Group (Fortenberry Lab) at UM. Computational astrochemistry is the application of quantum chemical techniques to molecules of astrophysical significance.

Fortenberry runs computer programs to simulate the way electrons and nuclei interact within a molecule. This then delivers information about chemical reactions, data for remote sensing and how molecules may evolve.

“The chemistry department is very excited about this event,” said Greg Tschumper, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Dr. Fortenberry is our newest faculty member, and this webinar will effectively put a large spotlight on the strong astrochemistry research program he is establishing here at the University of Mississippi as he shares a virtual stage with Dr. Brett McGuire in front of a national and international audience.”

Astrochemistry is one of the purest forms of chemistry available to study that still has an application, Fortenberry said.

“The Earth is such a small subset of conditions that we often pigeonhole our creativity,” he said. “By exploring questions that force us to get out of our Earth-centered mindset, we can find all kinds of new science that we wouldn’t otherwise.

“My favorite example is nanotechnology, which largely arose from the late Sir Harry Kroto, who won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of a new form of carbon called fullerene. This has revolutionized materials science, but it wouldn’t have happened if an astrochemist hadn’t wondered what types of molecules could be made in the atmospheres of carbon-rich stars.”

Professor Working to Make Solar Cells More Efficient

Jared Delcamp awarded $750,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue work

Jared Delcamp

OXFORD, Miss. – A highly selective $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science will continue funding a University of Mississippi professor’s research into improving solar energy technologies.

Jared Delcamp, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has been awarded the grant funding through the department’s prestigious Early Career Research Program.

The award will support Delcamp, along with a post-doctoral student and a graduate student, in their research to better understand how to use high-energy visible light efficiently in relation to solar energy.

Delcamp was among 84 scientists this year from across the nation – including 54 university researchers – to receive a research grant through the program, which is in its ninth year.

“It is very exciting to me to get an Early Career Research award,” said Delcamp, who joined the UM faculty in 2013. “The division it is coming from is full of the best solar energy researchers in the U.S.

“It is a fierce competition to become part of the group, and I’m honored to be a part of it. I’m excited to start contributing research progress to the division.”

The Early Career Research Program is designed to develop the individual research programs of outstanding scientists at universities and Department of Energy national laboratories early in their careers and stimulate research careers in the disciplines supported by the department’s Office of Science.

No more than 10 years can have passed between the year the principal investigator’s Ph.D. was awarded and the year of the deadline for the proposal. A native of Monticello, Kentucky, Delcamp graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with his doctorate in chemistry in 2010.

Delcamp is the first UM faculty member to receive the award.

“We are so proud of Dr. Delcamp’s accomplishments at Ole Miss,” said Josh Gladden, UM interim vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “Early Career Research awards are extremely competitive and a true mark of a faculty member who has established themselves quickly on the national stage. Dr. Delcamp’s research has enormous potential, and we can’t wait to see what he will do next.”

Delcamp runs the Delcamp Group, a renewable energy research lab at the university. The lab focuses on using sunlight to separate charges across two materials, Delcamp said.

With sunlight energy being wasted in the visible region just after the ultraviolet region in a lot of solar technologies, Delcamp’s research is studying ways to stop this loss. New discoveries in this field potentially could improve dramatically technologies used in the fields of solar cells, direct solar-to-fuel devices and solar-powered batteries.

Since joining the Ole Miss faculty, Delcamp has won several awards and grants, including a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2015, several NSF awards and a NASA Research Infrastructure Development award.

“Dr. Delcamp’s research is addressing a major unmet need for improved efficiency in capturing and converting solar energy,” said Allyson Best, director of the university’s Office of Technology Commercialization. “The university has filed patent applications covering novel chemistry discovered in his laboratory and has received very promising feedback from potential commercial partners.”

In 2017, Delcamp received a Michael L. Edmonds New Scholar Award, presented annually to junior faculty at UM demonstrating exemplary performance in research, scholarship and/or creative achievement.

The funding allows Delcamp to focus on training the best scientists possible while making important discoveries that are being recognized internationally, he said.

“We have been atypically successful in terms of funding,” Delcamp said. “We use our funding very carefully to ensure important experiments are being done and science is being progressed responsibly.

“This level of funding being used responsibly has allowed us to focus on how to best solve a science problem rather than a funding problem. This is incredibly freeing in terms of mentoring students and getting research done.”

Delcamp’s project, titled “Controlling Interfacial Charge Separation Energetics and Kinetics,” is funded through DOE grant No. DE-SC0019131, which runs through Aug. 31, 2023.

UM Graduate Earns Top Recognition for Editorial Cartoons

Jake Thrasher won first place in SPJ's Mark of Excellence Competition

Jake Thrasher, a 2018 UM graduate and Hall of Fame inductee, won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence competition for his editorial cartoons in The Daily Mississippian. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Many people have diverse interests, but to be highly skilled in several areas is a rarer quality.

Jake Thrasher, of Birmingham, Alabama, graduated from the University of Mississippi in May with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, but he recently earned national honors in an entirely different field: editorial cartooning. He won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence competition.

Thrasher has always been interested in art. He attended high school at Shades Valley Visual Arts Academy, which gave students preparation for creative problem-solving in visual art for those interested in pursuing a creative career. He began working for The Daily Mississippian as a freshman at Ole Miss.

“I’d always created what would be considered fine art and I was always interested in making something meaningful,” he said.

While at a social event, an editor approached him to ask that he begin drawing editorial cartoons.

“I had never created cartoons before and I wasn’t big into politics, but I immediately fell in love with it,” he said.

It quickly became more than just art for Thrasher and developed meaning.

“I realized early on as an editorial cartoonist that I’d been given a position that gave me a platform to speak out,” he said. “It would be irresponsible of me to not use that platform to change the state, the nation and our campus for the better.”

Thrasher drew his inspiration from political and social issues. He created two or three originals cartoons each week for The Daily Mississippian during his undergraduate career.

“I tried to stay constantly up to date politically, socially and on current campus issues,” he said.

Each cartoon took Thrasher a minimum of four to five hours to complete for a more simplistic drawing, or up to eight or 10 hours for a detailed drawing that involved the use of watercolor and other elements.

Patricia Thompson, assistant dean for student media at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, said Thrasher’s work for The Daily Mississippian has been “nothing short of stunning.”

“The quality of his editorial cartoons rivals that from top professionals,” she said. “He has the ability to zone in on important issues and capture the essence of his opinion in artistic ways. His illustrations gracing the DM’s pages were creative, eye-catching and beautifully drawn.”

Thompson said he also went above and beyond his role by hiring and helping develop the skills of younger cartoonists and staying involved with student media.

“He wasn’t required to attend daily news meetings, but he often did so to learn what stories the staff was pursuing so he could make his work more timely and relevant,” she said.

Thrasher submitted three drawings to the competition, and the one featured on the SPJ website is titled “GOP Operation,” which is a satire of the children’s board game that also combines several issues.

“I’d have to say that was one of my favorites,” he said. “I spent a long time on that cartoon and it was one of my last drawings for the DM during my fall semester. I was happy to see it featured.”

Thrasher has a passion for helping others, and he served as president of Rebels Against Sexual Assault during his undergraduate career. He plans to attend Yale University this fall to pursue a doctorate in biology and biological sciences while conducting cancer and HIV research.

This spring, he was among 10 students inducted into the university’s 2017-18 Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors afforded Ole Miss students. He was also a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“Jake exemplifies what it means to be citizen scholar for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College,” Dean Douglas Sullivan-González said. “He took the challenges and the risks to explore both the arts and the sciences during his tenure, and these national awards represent an acknowledgement of his great risks to live the answers to the tough questions of the day. We are proud of Jake.”

Eight UM Professors Honored for Creative Research Projects

College of Liberal Arts faculty recognized during Commencement exercises

UM liberal arts Dean Lee Cohen (left) and Associate Dean Charles Hussey (right) congratulate 2018 Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement Award for senior faculty recipients. The winners are (from left) John Green, Todd Smitherman, Rhona Justice-Malloy and Nathan Hammer. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Eight faculty members in the University of Mississippi’s College of Liberal Arts have been recognized for their creative research and scholarly activity during the 2017-18 academic year.

Four members received the Dr. Mike L. Edmonds New Scholar Award for junior faculty. Another four received the College of Liberal Arts Award for Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement for senior faculty.

The awards, both of which are in their second year of existence, include medals and stipends of $1,000 and $2,000 respectively. They were presented May 12 during the college’s Commencement exercises.

The Edmonds Award is presented annually to untenured, tenure-track professorial rank faculty members who are within six years of their initial academic appointment and who have demonstrated exemplary performance in research, scholarship and/or creative achievement. Recipients of the Award for Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement have achieved scholarly recognition and influence well beyond the university.

“The eight people who were selected for these awards come from a diversity of disciplines,” said Charles Hussey, associate dean for research and graduate education and professor of chemistry and biochemistry who served as chair of the selection committee.

“This fact alone is a testament to the quality and strength of the research, scholarship and creative activities that can be found among the entire faculty community. These award recipients are among the very best scholars at the University of Mississippi, and we celebrate their success.”

Edmonds New Scholar Award honorees are Davita L. Watkins, in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics category; Thomas Allan Peattie, Fine and Performing Arts; James M. Thomas, Social Sciences; and Darren E. Grem, Humanities.

Award for Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement recipients are Nathan I. Hammer, Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Todd A. Smitherman and John J. Green, Social Sciences; and Rhona Justice-Malloy, Humanities, Fine and Performing Arts.

The first African-American female tenure track professor hired in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Watkins received a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award for $499,593 for work she has completed at the university, her creative ideas for future research activities and her strong teaching credentials. Her most recent research endeavors received $95,000 in joint support from the United Negro College Fund and Merck.

Watkins also helped cultivate several close collaborations with internal research groups at UM and with external groups at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Oak Ridge National Laboratories and the University of California at San Diego.

UM liberal arts Dean Lee Cohen (left) and Associate Dean Charles Hussey (right) congratulate recipients of the 2018 Mike L. Edmonds New Scholar Award for junior faculty. Winners are (from left) Darren Grem, Thomas Peattie, J.T. Thomas and Davita Watkins. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Peattie, an assistant professor of music, is an internationally recognized expert on the music of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. His distinguished publication record includes a monograph, a book on Mahler, four peer-reviewed articles and a review in some of the most respected journals in the field of musicology.

He is completing a second book on Italian composer Luciano Berio and two book chapters on Mahler. Pettie is also a frequent speaker at peer-reviewed national and international music conferences.

Described by sociology colleagues as a “rock star,” Thomas has written three academic books and seven articles accepted or in print in peer reviewed journals. The assistant professor of sociology and anthropology has received funding from the prestigious Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline Program, College of Liberal Arts Summer Research Grants and an Office of Research and Sponsored Programs Investment Grant.

An invited panelist at national, regional and local conferences, Thomas also serves as an editorial board member for two important journals in the field: Contexts and Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.

An assistant professor of history and Southern studies, Grem is the author of a celebrated monograph, a co-edited volume and six peer-reviewed articles. A panel chair at the 2017 national Business History Conference, he oversaw two hires in the Department of History and is working on his second manuscript.

Hammer, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has served as principal investigator on five grants from the National Science Foundation totaling more than $7 million. These include an NSF CAREER Award, a Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site and a major instrumentation award. He served the state’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR program as Track 1 senior personnel and program architect and Track 2 program director.

A UM research development fellow, Hammer developed and directs his department’s summer research program. He also co-organized the 50th annual Southeastern Undergraduate Research Conference in 2018 and has delivered three invited talks at national American Chemical Society meetings.

With collaborators at Wake Forest School of Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital, Smitherman, an associate professor of psychology, has led the way in debunking myths about the factors that trigger headaches. His publication record includes more 65 peer-reviewed articles, a book, a lead-authored book and nine book chapters.

Smitherman is a fellow of the American Headache Society, associate editor of Headache and a consultant to the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of National Institutes of Health. The only psychologist on the Medical Advisory Board, he has been supported in his research by the Migraine Research Foundation, American Headache Society and Merck Pharmaceuticals.

Director of the university’s Center for Population Studies and a professor of sociology, Green has held many elected positions, including serving as the current president of the Southern Rural Sociological Association, and he is the former editor-in-chief of the Community Development Society’s official publication. Green has secured 11 grants and contracts, increased the center’s staff, added undergraduate and graduate research assistants and added 10 affiliated researchers from within and outside the university.

Last year, he became a team co-leader and steering committee member of the Community Wellbeing Flagship Constellation, one of four priority research areas selected by the university for investment and further development as part of Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter’s strategic vision.

A professor of theatre arts, Justice-Malloy is a member of the National Theater Conference, which has only 150 members selected through a strict nomination process. She served as president of the Mid-America Theater Conference and was recently inducted as a fellow.

Justice-Malloy’s record of research spans many years and includes articles in Continuum:  The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance, and in Theatre History Studies. She co-edited and contributed a chapter to the book “Enacting History.” Besides her strong publication record, Justice-Malloy also has s significant record of presentations both domestically and internationally.

This year’s honorees are exceptional, and their work reflects the goals for which the awards were created, said Lee M. Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and professor of psychology.

“As a Carnegie R1 university, it is important that we publicly recognize and reward our most productive faculty for their sustained efforts in research, scholarship and creative achievement,” Cohen said. “I hope the recent establishment of these awards will help us to elevate our productivity moving forward.”

UM Graduate Programs Highly Ranked by U.S. News & World Report

Business school finishes No. 53 among public institutions

The University of Mississippi School of Business is tied for No. 53 among public institutions in the 2019 edition of the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi offers 14 graduate programs ranked in the Top 100 among public institutions. Seven programs joined the ranks of the Top 100 in the recent 2019 edition of the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings, adding to seven other UM graduate programs that were previously ranked.

UM graduate programs ranked in the Top 100 are:

Online graduate programs at UM ranked in the Top 100:

  • online MBA (No. 20)
  • online education (tied for No. 35)

The business program performed exceptionally well in the 2019 edition of the rankings, finishing in a tie for No. 53 among public institutions.

“We are excited for the recognition of our MBA program, and this ranking is a testament to the quality of our faculty and the outstanding educational experience that we provide for our students,” said Ken Cyree, dean of the School of Business Administration. “We continue to create opportunities for student success and offer an excellent value in the marketplace for students aspiring to receive an MBA.”

Earlier this year, U.S. News & World Report named the university’s online Master of Business Administration as one of the best in the nation, ranking No. 20 nationally, and the Ole Miss online graduate education programs tied for No. 35 among public institutions.

The School of Law is tied for No. 54 among public institutions in the 2019 edition of the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“We’re pleased to see many of UM’s graduate programs ranked nationally,” Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said. “As we continue our focus upon preparing the next generation of leaders for challenges on a national and global stage, these rankings provide important benchmarks for us to highlight and measure our successes.

“Through our outstanding faculty and collaborative research opportunities, we are committed to fostering excellence in graduate education and to growing our reach and impact.”

The new rankings arrive a year after U.S. News & World Report graduate program rankings for history, English and political science placed each of those UM programs in the Top 100 for public institutions.

In the 2018 edition of the rankings, the UM graduate program in history cracked the Top 40 for the first time, tying for No. 38 among public institutions.

The English program tied for No. 40 among public universities.

The political science graduate program entered the rankings for the first time and tied for No. 59 among public institutions.

Ken Cyree, dean of the UM School of Business Administration, said the school’s high ranking in the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings is a testament to its faculty and educational experience. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

In the 2017 edition of the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings, the Ole Miss pharmacy program ranked No. 23 among public institutions, and the university’s clinical psychology graduate program tied for No. 67 among public institutions.

“The institution has focused on enhancing graduate education, and we are so pleased that our excellent programs have garnered this level of recognition,” said Christy M. Wyandt, interim dean of the Graduate School.

In four of the last five years, the university also has improved its overall U.S. News & World Report Top Public Schools ranking. In the 2018 edition, UM was tied for No. 73 among top public schools.

The 2019 edition of the rankings rates programs in business, law, medicine, nursing, engineering and education, among others. According to U.S. News, the ranking methodology varies by discipline, taking into account factors that may include test scores of entering students, job placement rates and starting salaries of recent graduates, academic quality ratings by officials at peer institutions, and opinions of hiring managers.

Chemistry Professor Receives Prestigious Honor

Davita L. Watkins named 2018 Young Investigator by division of the American Chemical Society

UM assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry Davita L. Watkins has been named a 2018 Young Investigator by the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Division, a branch of the American Chemical Society. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi chemistry professor has been awarded a prestigious national honor for her work in the fields of organic chemistry and materials science.

Davita L. Watkins, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has been named a 2018 Young Investigator by the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Division, a branch of the American Chemical Society.

PMSE Young Investigators are researchers in the first seven years of their independent career in academia, industry or national laboratories who have made significant contributions to their fields within polymer science and engineering. These scientists and engineers are emerging as leaders in the fields of materials and polymer chemistry through the synthesis, processing, characterization and physics of soft materials and their applications.

“It’s very much of a surprise,” said Watkins of the honor. “As a young scientist, I am often narrowly focused on the task that is at hand – be it research, grants, manuscripts, outreach, etc.

“The experience tends to be a very personal one that I genuinely love. In turn, having others in your field acknowledge your hard work, ambition and drive is both humbling and satisfying.”

Watkins and the quality of her science are well deserving of the highly selective recognition, said Greg S. Tschumper, professor and chair of chemistry and biochemistry.

“The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is extremely proud of Dr. Watkins,” he said. “This type of accolade is a tremendous boon for the research mission of the department and the university. They provide a national stage that highlights some of the outstanding research and researchers at the University of Mississippi.”

Watkins’ research interests include organic and materials chemistry, supramolecular chemistry and other areas, such as exploring the operational efficiency of functional materials. A member of the Ole Miss faculty since 2014, she runs the Watkins Research Group based at UM that addresses challenging problems in materials science and engineering with innovative approaches to molecular design and fabrication.

The group focuses on improving the operational efficiency of functional materials by examining two factors: the nature of the constituting components, and the arrangement of those molecules to yield a useful overall composition, she said.

The goals of the group are to identify the unique building blocks of functional materials and examine how those building blocks behave on a molecular and macromolecular level.

“The new knowledge gained from our research leads to the development of more efficient organic-based materials and devices, thereby advancing the pursuit of technological applications” such as in electronic devices and biomedical implants, Watkins said.

Being named a 2018 Young Investigator is not the first time Watkins has earned acclaim for her research and work during her short tenure at the university.

In 2017, Watkins won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for her research in advanced functional materials that she develops in her laboratory. Among the most prestigious awards made by the NSF, these honors are extremely competitive. The five-year award is for approximately $500,000.

In 2015, Watkins was awarded the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award by Oak Ridge Associated Universities. The competitive research award recognizes science and technology faculty members. Watkins received the award to examine noncovalent interactions between organic semiconducting molecules to increase their efficiency in devices used as alternative forms of energy.

“UM is very proud to have Dr. Watkins as a member of our faculty,” said Josh Gladden, interim vice chancellor of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. “She has quickly proven herself to be a talented researcher and teacher, which has already resulted in a number of significant and competitive grant awards and recognitions. I’m excited to watch the evolution of her career.”

The 21 Young Investigator recipients will be honored during a symposium at the fall 2018 American Chemical Society National Meeting, set for Aug. 19-23 in Boston. Each honoree will give a 25-minute lecture on his or her recent research advances. The symposium includes special lectures from established leaders in the field of polymer materials science and engineering.

Watkins’ research – understanding how to build better devices from the molecular level – is an overarching theme in modern organic materials research, said Emily Pentzer, assistant professor of chemistry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and a co-organizer of the symposium.

Watkins was chosen as a Young Investigator both for her current research and her future work.

“The awardees have also established that they will continue to significantly contribute to the field over the rest of their career,” Pentzer said.

Watkins said her symposium lecture will discuss the development of noninvasive functional materials for rapid diagnosis and treatment of acute trauma. After almost four years in development, Watkins said she’s excited to share her research with the scientific community at the symposium.

“I aim to be a teacher-scholar – an exemplary researcher and role model,” she said. “In turn, I am always conscious of the fact that my accomplishments are not my own. Being at UM, I am surrounded by intelligent, supportive people, including mentors, colleagues and students.

“My colleagues and collaborators, as well as amazingly hard-working students, are the ones who make these achievements possible.”

Second Law of Thermodynamics Topic for January Science Cafe

UM researchers Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer to discuss mysteries of entropy

UM chemistry and biochemistry professors Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer will share ‘Harrowing Tales of Entropy’ at the monthly Science Cafe Jan. 30. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The second law of thermodynamics is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s first meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer, UM professors of chemistry and biochemistry, will discuss “Harrowing Tales of Entropy.” Admission is free.

The second law of thermodynamics holds that entropy, basically heat lost during a chemical or mechanical transformation, can never decrease in an isolated system, such as the universe. The second law puts a limit on the transformation of heat into work.

“Entropy is a mysterious phenomenon that has puzzled scientists since its discovery by Rudolph Clausius in the 1850s,” Wadkins said. “Did it drive Clausius mad? Perhaps. But it led to his development of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

“Nearly 200 years of scientists have struggled with this mind-blowing, senses-shattering physical phenomenon.”

Wadkins and Hammer’s 45-minute presentation will address several questions about the nature of entropy and how it affects everything.

“Found in refrigerators, automobiles and even our bodies, entropy will eventually destroy the universe,” Hammer said. “We can promise you one thing from this evening of thrills and sensations: you will never look at a snowflake the same way again.”

Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and the forum’s organizer, said he expects a most interesting discussion.

“I’m eagerly waiting their presentation,” Cavaglia said. “Entropy has fascinated researchers for generations, so I’m sure the general public will be fascinated as well.”

Wadkins received his bachelor’s and doctoral degree froms UM in 1986 and 1990, respectively. He held a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Institutes of Health, a Gesellschaft Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany, and a postdoctoral fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

He also has been a science and technology policy fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015-16, sponsored by the Biophysical Society.

A member of the Ole Miss faculty since 1990, Wadkins’ research interests are biophysical chemistry, molecular dynamics, fluorescence microscopy and imaging, DNA structure and structural transitions, and biosensors.

Hammer received an honors bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a doctorate in physical chemistry and chemical physics from the University of Tennessee in 1998 and 2003, respectively. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University and an Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Massachusetts.

He joined the UM faculty in 2007 and received tenure in 2013. He was honored as an Ole Miss Faculty Research Fellow in 2008 and received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation in 2010 to spectroscopically track the evolution of noncovalent interactions from the single molecule level to the condensed phases.

Hammer also directs the NSF-funded Ole Miss Physical Chemistry Summer Research Program for Undergraduates.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy or call 662-915-7046.

CSI Camp Creates Forensic Summer Fun

Students use real-life tools, techniques on imaginary case for learning experience

High school students (from left) Blake Howard, Caroline Sturgis, Peyton Jolley and Annija Westfall conduct a gunshot residue test during the third annual CSI Camp. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A dead body, blood spatter, guns, bullets and DNA samples – all fake – offered plenty of opportunities for gifted middle and high school students to test their forensic skills recently at the University of Mississippi.

Thirty-five seventh- through 12th-graders visited Ole Miss as part of a weeklong camp on forensic science. Sponsored by the American Academy of Forensic Science, the UM Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Division of Outreach and Continuing Education, the event drew students from Mississippi, Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and the District of Columbia.

Led by Murrell Godfrey, the university’s forensic chemistry program director, and his students, the group spent time honing detective skills while examining “evidence” throughout classrooms and labs in Coulter Hall.

“The students participated in daily labs where they participated in analyzing the crime scene evidence using high-tech instrumentation and techniques used in a real crime laboratory, including gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, liquid chromatography, comparison microscope, DNA analysis and gunshot residue analysis,” Godfrey said.

“The students then must defend their data and results as expert witnesses in a mock trial held on the last day of the camp.”

Ole Miss graduate student Caroline Spencer assisted with instruction, and undergraduate students Zachara Catchings and Ebone McCowan served as camp counselors. Cass Dodgen, project manager for summer programs, coordinated transportation, housing and meals.

Participants observed as Godfrey and others demonstrated the proper procedures for analysis of the staged evidence recovered from the mock crime scene.

Some of the hands-on activities include DNA, fingerprint, gunshot residue, bullet and drug analyses using the same high-tech analytical and physical techniques used in crime laboratories.

Forensic scientists who delivered lectures on different aspects of investigation included Darrell Davis, a retired DEA director from Dallas; DeMia P. Pressley, of the DEA Diversion Control Division in Washington, D.C.; Deedra Hughes, Mississippi Forensics Laboratory assistant director and DNA technical leader from Jackson; and Jennifer Tuten, a DEA forensic chemist from Dallas.

“It was such a great experience to be able to share what I do and participate in such a wonderful event,” Tuten said. “The students were even more interested and excited to learn than I could have imagined.

“I would have jumped on an opportunity like this one when I was in high school.”

A mock trial on the last day of the camp tests students’ knowledge on the various topics and labs.

“The students must serve as expert witnesses, prosecutors, defense attorneys, suspect and so forth,” Godfrey said. “The expert witnesses must defend their analysis of the different pieces of evidence found at the crime scene. A jury will then render a final decision in the case.”

Divided into smaller groups, the students rotated daily between labs in the chemistry department and stations for DNA collection, presumptive tests, ballistics and gunshot residue, fingerprints, and analytical chemistry and forensics. At each station, students analyzed their samples and collected data.

A double-decker bus tour of campus and the university’s Maynard W. Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden was arranged by Don Stanford, assistant director of UM’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

This was the third forensics summer camp hosted at the university.

“This was our best CSI Camp yet,” Godfrey said. “We had 35 campers representing 11 states. Our goal is always to encourage these gifted young minds to become STEM majors once they enter college.”

Several students said they’ve learned a great deal through their experience.

“I expected to learn a lot about solving crimes,” said De’Monica Dumas, a ninth-grader from Shreveport, Louisiana. “During the week, I met some cool experts and learned what goes on behind closed doors when solving a crime.”

Senior Kayla Masari agreed.

“During the week, the experiences I have made have been life-changing,” said Masari, from Dumont, New Jersey. “It has proved to me that it is what I want to be. In addition to that, it has also made the University of Mississippi a top school on my list, and I definitely intend to apply to the forensic chemistry program.”

Other students were Meredith Archer of Tupelo; Alyssa Bencel of Nacogdoches, Texas; Grace Bennett of Waggaman, Louisiana; Nia Binning of Richmond, Georgia; Autumn Bishop of Pell City, Alabama; Amelia Block of Purvis; Katelyn Brooks of Saltillo; Terrell Caldwell of Stockbridge, Georgia; Lauren Colbert of Murphy, Texas; Lindsey Coulon of Bunkie, Louisiana; Kayla Fowler of Conroe, Texas; Axel Gonzalez of Mercedes, Texas; Rachel Harris of Belden; Darby Hesson of Westerville, Ohio; Blake Howard of Cedar Park, Texas; Leah Hughes of Brandon; Peyton Jolley of Bartonville, Texas; Nia Jones of Chicago; Lana Lauer of Beverly Hills, California; Alyshia Moore of Vicksburg; Francisco Munoz of Pharr, Texas; Heaven Ratcliff of Houston, Texas; Gesselle Sanchez of Welasco, Texas; Sydney Sanchez of Spring, Texas; Earline Saunders of Washington, D.C.; Shaelyn Simoneau of Kathleen, Georgia; Caroline Sturgis of Huntsville, Alabama; Isaac Trevino of Donna, Texas; Marija Westfall and Annija Westfall, both of Orange, California; John Wilkins of Bowie, Maryland; Sophia Williams of San Diego; and Tyler Williams of Oxford.

For more information about the forensic chemistry program within the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, visit http://chemistry.olemiss.edu/undergraduates/forensic-chemistry/.

Chemistry of Milk Topic of UM Science Cafe for February

Chemistry professor and student team up for second presentation of spring semester

Chemistry professor Susan Pedigo will discuss the chemistry of milk and dairy products for this month’s Science Cafe. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The chemistry of dairy products is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s second meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 21 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Susan Pedigo, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, along with Lemuel Tsang, a senior biochemistry major from D’Iberville, will discuss “The Chemistry of Milk.” Admission is free.

“Through the millennia, human cultures have exploited one biomolecule or another to create a wide range of foods from milk,” Pedigo said. “We will cover a diverse range of topics, including the incredible origin of milk, butter and its close cousin, margarine, and the art of cheese-making.”

Pedigo and Tsang’s 30-minute presentation will tour the chemistry of the proteins, lipids and carbohydrates in milk. They were motivated to discuss this topic to encourage recognition of the beauty and complexity in the ordinary.

“We tend to take milk for granted, but there are a surprising number and a diverse range of edible products made from milk,” she said. “Since it can support the growth and maturation of a new mammalian creature, it has water and all the required nutrients for life: proteins, lipids and carbohydrates.”

Pedigo said that food is really an interest for her.

“Why is some cheese stringy and other cheese crumbly?” she said. “We have been discussing the chemistry of food since Lemuel took biochemistry last year.”

The presentation should be captivating for all, said Marco Cavaglia, associate professor of physics and astronomy and organizer of the Science Cafe series.

“Dr. Pedigo shares knowledge in a fascinating and yet understandable manner,” Cavaglia said. “Her discussion on milk and its by-products should be most enlightening.”

Pedigo earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Colorado, a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Iowa. Before coming to Ole Miss, she was a postdoctoral scientist at Vanderbilt University

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy or call 662-915-7046.

Embry Legacy Continues with Latest Scholar

Killough receives 2016 award created in football player's memory

Murrell Godfrey (left), UM director of forensic chemistry, talks Embry scholar Lane Killough through the beginning stages of running a polymerase chain reaction. Forensic chemists use the PCR process to duplicate DNA until the sample size is large enough to analyze. Photo by Bill Dabney

Murrell Godfrey (left), UM director of forensic chemistry, talks Embry scholar Lane Killough through the beginning stages of running a polymerase chain reaction. Forensic chemists use the PCR process to duplicate DNA until the sample size is large enough to analyze. Photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – It has been 18 years since Bill and Gwen Embry of Coffeeville lost their son Joey in a drowning accident in 1998. Joey, a University of Mississippi student and an offensive tackle for the Rebel football team, was a well-respected leader on and off the field.

The same year Joey Embry died, Lane Killough was born.

Killough, an honor graduate of Bruce High School, is this year’s recipient of the Joey Embry Memorial Scholarship, a fund established by the Embrys to remember their son and give back to a resident of Calhoun or Yalobusha counties.

“We have known, or known a family member of, each student who has received the scholarship,” Gwen Embry said. “Knowing their names makes it much more personal. Joey’s loss is helping people who knew him.”

In high school, Killough served as president of the Beta Club and the Youth Arts Council. He also was involved with the yearbook and newspaper staffs and was active in the drama club. Additionally, he served as head of the school’s library organization.

“Bill and I are very pleased for the Joey Embry Memorial Scholarship to be awarded to such a deserving student going to the University of Mississippi,” Embry said.

Killough said he appreciates the gift and understands the significance behind it.

“I have always wanted to have this college experience,” he said. “Through the assistance of the scholarship, I can more easily accomplish my goals.”

Killough, who chose to attend Ole Miss after visiting the Oxford campus, plans to major in forensic chemistry, one of only five accredited forensic chemistry programs in the nation. He hopes to use his education to help solve federal crimes.

“I immediately fell in love with the campus and the people,” Killough said. “Everything about the environment and community drew me in.”

Students interested in applying for the scholarship should speak with their high school guidance counselor.

Individuals and organizations can contribute to the Joey Embry Memorial Scholarship Fund through the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; phone 800-340-9542; or online at http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.