Ole Miss STEM students coming together

-Hannah Glass and Trenton Scaife


There’s one day a year when science and medical students come together to build unique solutions for persistent problems, from aiding coral reefs using cultured bacteria to setting up blind dates between fungi and algae.

The third annual University of Mississippi Research Day will take place on April 13th, where students from the Oxford campus will participate alongside students from the Jackson Medical campus.

Past events focused more on bringing the public in to learn about the research that happens under Ole Miss, but this year’s research day will focus more on getting the participants together. According to Jason Hale, the Director of Research Development at Ole Miss and a member of this year’s Research Day Planning Committee, focusing on the students will consolidate their work into single, larger projects, which in turn, attract more financial backers.

“A lot of opportunities for funding and for grants are given to collaborative projects, so this event is to help get more students together and give them a greater chance to secure grants, so they might better secure funds than they would if they went off on their own,” Hale said.

The Planning Committee’s goal is to focus on nurturing collaboration between the two campuses and also between departments to get researchers from different areas of study talking and working together.

Savannah Kelly, a member of the Planning Committee and a research and instruction librarian and assistant professor at Ole Miss, spoke about the events that will take place during Research Day. “Although the exact times are yet to be determined, you can read about the upcoming UM/UMMC Research Day activities on our homepage. We will have two keynote speakers; a venue for faculty, staff and students to share research posters, and a research speed networking opportunity.” [LATER DATE: more info from Kelly’s quotes]

“We’ve taken feedback from the previous attendants, so we’re tweaking the agenda to be more about helping people to learn what one another are doing, and to have time and space for more formal presentations,” said Hale.

“There are different specialists in different areas, so they have an issue they want to look at,” said Whitney Bondurant, a member of the Planning Committee from the UMMC’s Office of Sponsored Programs. “One may be an expert on water quality and one might be an expert in transport, so they get together, work together, and solve that problem.”

Dr. Erik Hom, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, is particularly looking forward to seeing the outcomes of this year’s Research Day. Hom does research on cultures of microbes and is interested in understanding the rules of engagement of the social lives of microbes. He was drawn to Ole Miss because of the opportunity provided by the institutional relationship between Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy.He is excited about the opportunity his graduate students will get by presenting their findings at the Research Day event. “If there’s a chance for students to show their posters,” said Hom, “I want them to be able to show their work.”

Thuy Nguyen, a graduate student in the biology department, has been exploring several of these cultures. Coral reefs all over the world have been devastated by overharvesting, pollution, and global warming. Nguyen has been conducting research that could possibly help heal these corals. The information she will present at the Research Day will be based on a determined suite of compounds, and how to understand how the community present in those compounds works and functions, especially in respect to coral systems. Her findings may even extend beyond the underwater world; Nguyen’s work with David Pasco, who works with the University of Mississippi’s Cancer Institute, has led to new discoveries about the possible use of the microbes. [LATER DATE: interview]

Another of Hom’s graduate students, Michael Clear, is working with the GoLife project through the National Science Foundation. During his recent trip to Chile, Clear worked with other students from Duke University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Arizona, collaborating on the project. Clear collected samples of tree bark, soil, leaves, and water which are all being plated on microbial plates and sent back to Ole Miss from Chile. Clear’s presentation will include a selection of fungi from the “fungal tree of life,” specifically ones that have been overlooked in past research. Approximately 40 types of these fungi need exploration, and Clear is doing this by co-culturing different fungi with others. He then compares whether the fungi grew more or less during their time together, or stayed the same. “It’s like dating,” explained Dr. Hom. “Sometimes when you go on a first date, you hit if off. We want to see the biological reason why these fungi react the way they do.”

The University of Mississippi Research Day was initially created in 2015 by LouAnn Woodward, the Vice Chancellor of Research at the Jackson Medical Center, to showcase student research programs to the public, and to get students to share their work with one another. Hale hopes that this year’s program will continue to promote this idea.

“I think the collaborations could lead to problems being solved that couldn’t be handled individually,” said Hale. “Working together is required to bring forth better solutions and to advance knowledge into a more collaborative era. Part of it is to secure more grants, but part of it too is to advance knowledge, and solve problems for Mississippians and the world.”



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