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ASU Students Win Top Awards at National Research Conference

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Author: Timothy C. Ervin

Release Date: Mar 22, 2013

Two ASU students received first-place awards for research presentations at a national conference attended by hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students.

Students working in the Center for NanoBiotechnology Research (CNBR) at Alabama State University received first-place awards for their presentations at the 2013 Emerging Researchers National Conference (ERN) recently held in Washington, D.C.

Stacie Fairley, a Ph.D. student in microbiology, and Rebekah Jones, an undergraduate HBCU-UP chemistry student, competed against more than 100 graduate and 400 undergraduate students from institutions such as Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UCLA.

Fairley is no stranger to the conference nor to recognition for her work. This is her second consecutive year attending the conference and winning a first-place award. Last year, she won first place for a poster presentation.

This year Fairley competed in the oral presentations with her research titled “PLGA-Encapsulated Chlamydia Trachomatis MOMP Induces TH1 Immune Responses in Mice.” This research examined the use of a nanomaterial to increase the delivery of a vaccine that will help increase immunity against chlamydia infection.

“What’s unique about our project is that we are using nanoparticles as a delivery vehicle, and so my presentation dealt with the physiochemical characterizations of that as well as some invivostats that we performed here at ASU,” Fairley said. “My mentor, Dr. Dennis, supervised me and was very instrumental in ensuring that the slides were professional and even some of my colleagues helped me practice for the presentation.”
Dr. Vida A. Dennis, associate professor of microbiology and associate director of the CNBR, has been helping Fairley work on the research for the past two years. Dennis said the competition is not just about the work itself, it’s also about the presenter and the presentation of the work.

“I helped her by designing experiments, working with her on the research, making sure her hypothesis was met for the experiments and helped her get the results.  She put the Power Point together, edited it and made sure it was fine,” Dennis said.  “But a lot has to do with the presenter being confident and passionate about the work.  All of those factors helped her win first place.”

Jones, a Prattville native and transfer student from Troy University, attended the conference and competed for the first time. Her poster presentation was titled “Observation of Structural Changes of Methamphetamine, Phenobarbital, Cocaine, and Marijuana Under UV Irradiations and Elevated Temperatures.”

During the past year, Jones has conducted research on scheduled drugs that have high potential for abuse, addiction and are on the top list in illicit drug cases in the United States.

Using gas chromatograph-mass spectrometry (GCMS), Jones discovered new degradation products of methamphetamine. The “forensic drug impurity signature” she obtained during her research may be used to provide a link in crime scene investigation and law enforcement.

Jones said she received a lot of help from her mentor and supervisor Dr. Harvey Hou, associate professor of forensic science at ASU, as well as from Dennis and fellow students.

“Dr. Hou has been helping me with the research for about a year and also helped me put the poster presentation together. Some of the graduate students also helped me and they let me present to them to make sure that I appeared confident,” Jones said. “So I just followed the advice of all of my mentors and was confident in what I was saying and presented my research.”

Hou, who helped organize the regional conference for several years, said this year’s national conference was very competitive.

“This is the first time I’ve had a student get a poster award, and this is a national award, so I am very happy and excited. They competed with students from all across the nation.”

Jones said such stiff competition makes her want to work even harder next year.

“Competing with them makes me want to do more research and go further with my work,” Jones said. “It just gives me that boost. I’m succeeding, and I want to succeed more.”

Other CNBR graduate and undergraduate students who competed at the conference included Ph.D. microbiology students Chino Cambridge, Ronda K. Bibbs and Abebayehu Yilma; and HBCU-UP STEM scholars Brandi Barlow, Brandi Bethune, Tevin Green, Jamicia Lewis, Edgar Macal, Carlton McClain, Zachary Meadows, Wilbert I. Paige III, Jade Patterson-Grimes, Kemet Preer, Christian Rogers, Carrie Sanders and Gabriel Webber.

The Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference seeks to highlight the research of undergraduate and graduate students who participate in programs funded by the National Science Foundation’s Human Resource Development unit. In particular, the conference is aimed to help college and university students enhance their science communication skills and enhance their competitiveness for science careers in the global workforce. The ERN Conference is supported by the National Science Foundation and organized by the American Association of Science.

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