UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI
and their revolutionary research
I NS I D E
Research Day Sparks Interdisciplinary Collaboration 5
Denise Caldwell 14
Breaking Barriers to Space Exploration 6
Jacob Gdovin 15
Drug Discovery from Cannabis 10
Charles Hussey 25
Exploring ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ 13
Mariah Cole 31
Shaping the Next Generation of Scientists 16
FY15 at a Glance
NCNPR Celebrates 20th Anniversary 27
Change Agents is produced by the University of Mississippi’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. For additional information on research at The University of Mississippi or if you would like to become involved by helping support a particular research effort, please contact Alice Clark, Vice Chancellor for Research, at 662-915-7583 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great Strides 32
On the Cover: miscroscopic view of Arabidopsis thaliana root tissue
Building on Success 22
Executive Editor Amy Lewis
Editor Mitchell Diggs
Writers Emily Howorth Erin Garrett
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Art Director Stefanie Goodwiller
Photographers Robert Jordan, Kevin Bain, Nathan Latil, Thomas Graning, © iStock
A Word of Welcome Twenty years ago, when the university’s National Center for Natural Products Research first opened its doors, I stood before the building feeling a powerful mix of anticipation, excitement and a sense that the possibilities ahead were at once open, endless and unknowable. I had been selected as the center’s interim director and would one year later be appointed its first permanent director. It would not have been possible at that time to imagine all that would come in the next 20 years and that would expand the center from its initial staff of 24 to the internationally recognized presence it has become in the discovery, development and commercialization of natural products as pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. That story is told within these pages (“National Center for Natural Products Research Celebrates 20th Anniversary”), and I offer it in this introduction as one example among many of the persistence, talent and strategic resourcefulness that is characteristic of the University of Mississippi research community. Through shifts and changes at the national, state and university level, the university has cultivated a vibrant and growing research community that makes the most of its resources and opportunities to build on long-term visions for success. For example, take the 2015 Research Day, an event designed to foster collaboration between faculty members on the Oxford and Jackson campuses. The event has led to several promising opportunities for collaboration, including one detailed within these pages (“Research Day Sparks Interdisciplinary Collaboration”). Or consider the new partnership between the university and NEMUS Bioscience, a company developing FDA-approved pharmaceutical products based on compounds contained in cannabis (“Drug Discovery from Cannabis”). That relationship is possible due to the establishment of expertise in cannabis research at the university, which has been built over more than four decades. There are indicators all around our campus that the ethic of long-term vision and strategic resourcefulness is alive – and thriving – at the university and in our research enterprise. Take for example the story “Building on Success,” featuring Nathan Hammer, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. While the story tells of a series of impressive research accomplishments, it is also an illustration of the intrinsic links between research, teaching and service, and an illustration of the power of shared vision and support. Or consider “Great Strides,” a story that profiles two faculty members who both have won NSF CAREER awards within the same year – a first for the university. Finally, “Shaping the Next Generation of Scientists” features educational outreach programs that are inspiring Mississippi’s youngest minds, who are the researchers, scientists, scholars and innovators of the future. These stories and more are included within this issue, the third Change Agents to date. I hope you will enjoy learning more about the remarkable UM researchers, faculty, staff, alumni and students featured here.
Alice M. Clark Vice Chancellor for Research Frederick A. P. Barnard Distinguished Professor
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The collaboration between Dr. Griggs and Dr. Najjar is a great example of what can be accomplished when people join forces to pursue innovative ideas.
Marcus McGrath and Vijay Ramalingam discuss a poster at the 2015 Research Day.
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Research Day Sparks Interdisciplinary Collaboration Almost 200 attendees gathered April 10, 2015 at the inaugural University of Mississippi Research Day to learn about scholarly and scientific research conducted at UM and UMMC. Many of the participants hoped to discover innovative opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration through networking, three-minute lectures and a poster session. “When great minds meet, the potential for discovery is high,” said Alice M. Clark, vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “The energy at the Inn at Ole Miss was palpable on Research Day thanks to a fantastic group of researchers and faculty members who presented almost 80 research posters and delivered over 40 short lectures.” Jason Griggs, associate dean for research in the School of Dentistry at the UM Medical Center, was one participant to emerge from the event with a novel idea for approaching a research obstacle. Griggs had recently received feedback from a National Institutes of Health review panel recommending he improve a grant application by incorporating more innovative statistical optimization methods. At the event, he delivered a three-minute lecture abridging his research, including a recently completed fiveyear project funded by the NIH to study the durability and estimated lifetime of titanium dental implants. His team had succeeded in finding new and better ways to rapidly assess the implants’ lifetime, and they also determined that small implants at the front of the mouth fail sooner than larger implants at the back of the mouth. They hoped their next step would be to determine what designs would best create longer-lasting small frontal implants. Following his presentation, Griggs was approached by Hakan Yasarer, a civil engineering instructor, who suggested that Griggs contact Yacoub Najjar, chair and professor of civil engineering. A follow-up meeting allowed members of both departments to share presentations about their capabilities and discuss prospects for collaboration. It turned out Najjar’s experiences contributing to major engineering efforts for the Kansas Department of Transportation and others could translate into the much smaller scope of engineering a better dental implant. Najjar has more than 20 years of expertise in artificial neural networks, a numerical modeling procedure that employs the concept of learning by example. An ANN is initially instructed to recognize a set of outcomes for a set of data; it can then take new data and predict unknown outcomes. As more data with known outcomes is added, the ANN can fine-tune its predictions, improving accuracy, just as a child learning to play basketball misses many of his first shots but with practice improves his accuracy. In the 1990s, following the repeal of federal limits on highway speeds, states struggled to determine appropriate rates for stretches
of highways and roads that had previously been uniformly limited to 55 miles per hour. Najjar worked at the time at Kansas State University and was contacted by the Kansas DOT to help solve the quandary. The Kansas DOT gave Najjar information about the technical properties of 3,000 road segments, such as shoulder width, type and percentage of no-passing zones, and provided appropriate posted speed limits for 150 of the segments. That information allowed Najjar’s ANN to predict appropriate posted speed limits for the remaining 2,850 two-lane road segments and to do so in a fraction of the time it would have required human minds. Just as Najjar used technical data about the conditions of some road segments to predict the best posted speed limits for all of the segments, he plans to use technical data Griggs has collected on 25 design elements of dental implants to help predict what combination of technical specifications will result in longer-lasting dental implants for the small teeth at the front of the mouth. “When there is a phenomenon we can’t express in equations, we refer to neural networks,” Najjar said. “I’m looking forward to learning about using an artificial neural network in a new area.” With help from another UMMC researcher, Michael Roach, an assistant professor in biomedical materials science, Griggs hopes to make a prototype of the optimum design that can then be tested in the laboratory. Griggs plans to rewrite the grant application to include Najjar’s ANN and resubmit it to the NIH this fall. “I hope that Dr. Najjar’s highly innovative methods will help us to garner NIH support, so we can provide better medical products for the public,” Griggs said. “There is a long history of successful collaboration between faculty on our Oxford and Jackson campuses,” said Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor of research at the Medical Center. “The collaboration between Dr. Griggs and Dr. Najjar is a great example of what can be accomplished when people join forces to pursue innovative ideas.” CA
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Breaking Barriers to
ver since humans put a man on the moon, we have dreamed of the next frontier: Mars. But while we may have the capacity to send rovers to explore the red planet, obstacles to human exploration persist, due to the length of the journey and unknowns about the toll it will take on the human body. In response to these questions and
Learn more about the Mississippi Space Grant Consortium and its educational outreach programs in “Shaping the Next Generation of Scientists.”
others, researchers at the University of Mississippi are investigating ideas that may make long-distance space travel more feasible. Research by John Z. Kiss, dean of the University of Mississippi Graduate School, investigates how plants grow in space, information that could one day allow astronauts to generate food and oxygen during long-term missions. A child of the 1960s, Kiss experienced the excitement of the moon landing, but he never expected he would one day work with NASA. After completing a Ph.D. in botany/plant physiology at Rutgers
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University, Kiss accepted a postdoctoral fellowship working with NASA at the University of Colorado at Boulder. That relationship progressed into a series of collaborations that have stretched almost three decades and have included eight completed space flight projects and a ninth project under development. Seven of the eight completed projects have been collaborations with the European Space Agency. Kiss served as the United States’ principal investigator on his most recently completed space project, Seedling Growth-2. In the experiment, plant seeds were delivered to the International Space
Station. After the seeds were watered in space and developed into young plants, photographs taken at the space station and downloaded to Earth allowed Kiss and his team to study the seedlings’ growth and development at different levels of gravity and in various light treatments. After their time at the International Space Station was completed, the seedlings were frozen at -80 degrees Celsius and returned to Earth, allowing Kiss and his team to study any changes in their genetic expression resulting from the altered conditions. While plants and seeds have been studied at NASA since the beginning of space exploration, which has led to a basic understanding of their behavior in microgravity, or near zero gravity, Kiss and his team are also exploring how they respond to reduced gravity. Gravity on the moon and Mars are one-sixth and three-eighths of Earth’s gravity, respectively. Using the European Modular Cultivation System at the International Space Station, Kiss and his team have found that Mars’ level of gravity may be sufficient for normal plant growth, while the moon’s lower level of gravity creates anomalous plants. The plant used by Kiss and his team is Arabidopsis thaliana, often considered the “lab rat” of plants. A flowering plant from the mustard family, it is ideal for study because its compact stature makes it easy to send to space and because its simple and thoroughly mapped genome is well-understood by scientists. In Seedling Growth-2, Kiss and his team sent 1,200 seeds to the International Space Station. Kiss joined the UM faculty as dean of the graduate school in 2012. As dean, Kiss has continued his NASA research projects and shared research opportunities with students. He enjoys the opportunity to work with both undergraduate and graduate students in his lab. “Research and graduate education are closely related,” Kiss said. “Continuing my research allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of research and keeps me in tune with students. I enjoy one-on-one
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mentorship, and it’s rewarding to see how students develop.” In 2014, Kiss was awarded NASA’s Outstanding Public Leadership Medal, which recognizes nongovernment employees for notable leadership accomplishments that have significantly influenced the NASA mission. “The award is a real honor,” Kiss said. “The legacy of NASA is public interest. Space exploration gets students interested in science and STEM careers. In this way, research is also an outreach opportunity. I am honored to be a part of that.” Another UM scientist is studying the effects of reduced gravity and microgravity on an entirely different species: us. Just as reductions in gravity affect
seedling growth, these changes can also have mysterious – and often deleterious – effects on the human body. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research at the UM Medical Center, has conducted groundbreaking research in the area on behalf of NASA’s Digital Astronaut Program, garnering national recognition. From the earliest days of space exploration, NASA recognized health problems in astronauts returning from missions. Ostostatic hypotension, a form of low blood pressure that causes dizziness and fainting spells, was observed in as many as one-third of astronauts upon return. That problem was the first of many tackled by Summers, who uses computational modeling to better understand how space travel affects the human body. “The barrier to go to Mars is the
The University of Mississippi School of Law offers a certificate in Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law. This certificate provides a comprehensive understanding of the legal processes regulating domestic and international aerospace activities. Students enrolled in the certificate program receive distinctive, interdisciplinary knowledge and expertise.
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physiological barrier,” Summers said. “We know how to get a rocket up there. We just don’t know how to get people up there. If we are ever going to have a moon colony or Mars colony, we have to understand how people are going to come back.” The concept of using a computer model to study the human body was an innovation pioneered by Dr. Arthur Guyton, a renowned physiologist whose career at the university and UM Medical Center spanned more than 40 years. While computer modeling had previously been used to study physics and chemistry, the concept of using modeling to better understand biological concepts was revolutionary. Summers worked under Guyton as a fellow and learned his method of computer modeling during clinical training. Summers’ publications in the area captured NASA’s interest. To address the problem of ostostatic hypotension, Summers and his team studied astronauts immediately after they returned from missions and used modeling to better understand the physiological processes involved. They suggested a simple measure to prevent the complication: a pair of compression hose placed on the lower extremities during landing. The solution was also used during rescue measures in the 2010 Chilean Mining Incident, when the miners faced similar complications as they made their ascent to the earth’s surface from depths of more than 2,300 feet. Following his discovery about ostostatic hypotension, Summers continued to build models to study the body in space. For 10 years, he attended shuttle landings and performed tests on returning astronauts, including taking vitals, blood tests and echocardiographs. Although the space shuttle program was halted in 2011, Summers continues his research through a NASA Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, Research Award that explores cardiac changes in astronauts. Summers first discovered cardiac changes in astronauts while working with David Martin,
the ultrasound lead at the NASA Johnson Space Center Cardiovascular Laboratory in Houston, Texas, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UM. Summers and Martin noticed that echocardiograms performed at the International Space Station showed perplexing changes in heart structure. While in space, the astronauts’ hearts appeared to have changed shapes and locations. Through computational modeling, Summers confirmed that the phenomenon was not an illusion; while on earth, the human heart settles in an elliptical shape, but adaptation to the microgravity environment causes astronauts’ hearts to assume a more spherical shape. “Dr. Summers was able to use the model to examine what we weren’t able to check otherwise, like seeing the response of a heart in lunar gravity or Martian gravity, which is very useful,” Martin said. “We have always enjoyed working with kiss him, and his knowledge of physiology is always a plus for our lab.” To perform their research, both Summers and Kiss have depended on wireless communication systems to transmit essential data from space to Earth. In the quest to improve that communications process are Lei Cao and John N. Daigle, professors of electrical engineering, and Ramanarayanan Viswanathan, chair and professor of electrical engineering. Cao and his team received a Research Program Award from the NASA EPSCoR program in 2014. Their project, which is to be completed in 2017, will study better technologies for wireless communications in space. The Mississippi Space Grant Consortium, headquartered at UM, provides oversight of the state’s NASA EPSCoR program, which supports the development of new programs that will lead to increased research
Scan this code to watch a NASA Video about the Seedling Growth-2 Experiment.
Kiss and his team study the growth of Arabidopsis seedlings in reduced gravity.
competitiveness in the state. The project also includes subcontracts to Jackson State University and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The distance from the Earth to Mars varies due to the alignment of the planets and averages 140 million miles, resulting in communication delays of up to 20 minutes from a lander on Mars back to Earth. Wireless communication in space also must overcome large signal attenuation and heavy distortion due to noise caused by the atmosphere. In particular, water vapor affects higherfrequency microwave signals, and the sun’s corona can distort signals from spacecraft on the far side of the sun. Cao’s project will focus on improving two aspects of wireless communication in space. In the reliable system currently used, data transmissions must be acknowledged upon receipt, and faulty
or corrupted files require multiple retransmissions that result in even longer delay periods. Cao and his team will explore improving this reliable model with the use of fountain codes, which will encode the data in ways that will allow it to be recovered without retransmission and will allow key data to be better protected against corruption. The other technology studied by the team, data fusion, may lead to better detection of signals that are distorted or buried in noise. The project builds on the team’s long-time active research in joint source and channel coding for wireless communications, distributed signal detection and computer networks. The EPSCoR grant is related to previous research that was supported by a NASA seed grant. The team also is working with the National Science Foundation and private industry partners to further develop and broaden the applications of these technologies. “The need to communicate ever-larger amounts of data for various exploration missions continues to escalate,” Cao said. “I’m inspired by the challenge and enjoy being part of the quest to find solutions.” CA
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Cannabis Drug Discovery from
A commercial partnership between NEMUS Bioscience Inc. and the University of Mississippi is finding better ways to identify and deliver pharmaceutically beneficial compounds from cannabis with fewer side effects.
We are the beneficiaries of more than forty-five years of research at the university and are working with our partners at the university to bring some of that knowledge forward so that it can help patients.
arijuana-laced cookies, brownies and other edibles line the shelves of dispensaries in states that have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. But dispensary owners are not qualified to offer medical advice regarding which marijuana products (if any) will treat a client’s health conditions, and the guesswork is a far cry from the science of pharmaceuticals. Seeking to develop FDA-approved pharmaceutical products based on compounds contained in cannabis is NEMUS Bioscience Inc., a biopharmaceutical company working in partnership with the University of Mississippi. The origins of NEMUS lie in the vision of Cosmas Lykos, executive chairman and co-founder, and Brian Murphy, CEO, to create a pharmaceutical company to develop FDA-approved pharmaceutical products based on compounds isolated from cannabis, known as “cannabinoids,” to address unmet therapeutic needs. By isolating or synthesizing cannabinoids with desired pharmacological properties, such as tetrahydrocannabinol, known as “THC,” they hope NEMUS can offer physicians and patients the medical benefits of “condition-specific” cannabinoids to alleviate symptoms associated with a range of diseases. While establishing NEMUS, the team became familiar with the unique role of the university as the only U.S. entity authorized by the federal government to cultivate cannabis for use in research. UM also holds Drug Enforcement Administration registrations allowing university researchers to cultivate cannabis and prepare cannabis preparations, including extracts and purified cannabinoids. The team realized a partnership with the university would be an extraordinary asset to the company. “We are the beneficiaries of more than 45 years of research at the university and are working with our partners at the university to bring some of that knowledge forward so that it can help patients,” Murphy said. “We take a patient-centric approach to drug development.”
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“When founding the company, we decided NEMUS would only pursue a business model and path that was fully compliant with all state and federal laws,” Lykos said. “That pathway led us to UM.” NEMUS is helmed by a team of seasoned industry executives, including Murphy, who has two decades of experience in drug development and evaluation, and Liz Berecz, CFO, a financial executive who over the past two decades has held several senior-level positions. Lykos has more than 20 years of executive leadership and legal experience. “The management team at NEMUS has vast experience in pharmaceutical research, clinical trials and marketing,” said Walter G. Chambliss, director of UM Technology Management. “They quickly recognized not only a commercial opportunity but also the value of establishing a strong partnership.” NEMUS solicited the help of several members of the UM research community, including Mahmoud ElSohly, research professor at the university’s National Center for Natural Products Research and professor of pharmaceutics and drug delivery. ElSohly is one of the world’s leading experts in the science of cannabis and directs the university’s Marijuana Project, which has held a decades-long contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse to produce cannabis for NIDA’s drug supply program. “It has been a real pleasure interacting and working with the NEMUS team of highly talented pharmaceutical development scientists,” ElSohly said. “NEMUS has been very responsive and supportive of the research needed to bring several products to the market.” Recently, a team of UM researchers developed new prodrugs and other pharmaceutical formulations of THC. A prodrug is a pharmaceutical compound that is made pharmacologically active once exposed to a specific metabolic process in the body. In this case, the prodrug is hydrolyzed (i.e., broken down by a chemical reaction with blood) in the The University of Mississippi is authorized by the federal government through body to release THC at the a competitive process to cultivate cannabis for use in research. desired site of action. The team included ElSohly, Michael Repka, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery, and Soumyajit Majumdar, associate dean for research and graduate programs in the School of Pharmacy and associate professor of pharmaceutics and drug delivery. The new formulations can effectively deliver the prodrugs into the eyes, producing a local effect, and via the gums or rectum into the bloodstream, offering potentially
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THC prodrugs may effectively treat glaucoma without producing side effects.
more predictable delivery in comparison to oral administration. Patented by the university, the prodrugs and delivery methods have the potential to improve the clinical effects of THC and other cannabinoids while limiting their adverse events. (When consumed by eating, cannabinoids are highly variable from person to person, leading to gaps in efficacy, side effects and making dosage determinations difficult. When smoked, cannabis leads to majumdar central nervous system side effects and direct exposure to carcinogens.) In the case of a glaucoma study in rabbits, direct application of THC prodrugs to the eye has been demonstrated to relieve intraocular pressure as much as or more than other agents and creates no detectable level of THC at the systemic level. “The results with the THC prodrug/formulation combinations are extremely encouraging,” said Majumdar, the lead scientist on the glaucoma formulation. “Although several drugs are currently available, THC represents a different class of molecule altogether and could thus become a valuable option in the management of glaucoma. Our collaboration with NEMUS is a perfect example of partners with complementary strengths, and we are in the midst of, and look forward to, many more translational projects of this kind.” NEMUS hopes to build a robust research and development relationship and has provided funding for UM researchers to explore other possible commercial opportunities. The company has leased 3,400 square feet of laboratory space at the Innovation Hub at Insight Park, the university’s research park. “The laboratories leased by NEMUS were built on a speculative basis with companies like NEMUS in mind,” said William Nicholas, assistant director of Insight Park. “It is very rewarding to see that the investment helped lead to this partnership. NEMUS could have leased laboratory space anywhere in the country, but chose the Innovation Hub at Insight Park not only to be close to our researchers but also because of the outstanding quality of its facilities.” The company’s experience working with the university has been overwhelmingly positive, Murphy said. “We are developing many close relationships, almost like family. We hope this will be part of a long-term relationship both on and off campus.” CA
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Exploring ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’: A UM scholar studies the history of civil defense
hile the phrase “history of war” typically conjures sepia-toned images of tanks and troops, research by Susan Grayzel, UM professor of history, illuminates a side of conflict less often pictured: the civilian consequences. Grayzel, a World War I expert, is particularly interested in the experiences of women, who did not participate in combat but still keenly felt the economic, emotional and health-related hardships of war and experienced trauma due to the advent of modern airstrikes. Grayzel’s latest research project is in collaboration with Lucy Noakes, a social and cultural historian at the University of Brighton in England. The two are the recipients of a collaborative research fellowship funded by the American Council of Learned Societies, or ACLS. The two-year fellowship allowed Grayzel to take a year of research leave in 2014-15 and travel to England, Scotland and Ireland to examine primary texts related to civil defense efforts in 20th-century Britain from the first world war onwards. The book that will result from Grayzel and Noakes’ ACLS fellowship will examine the evolution of civil defense from its inception at the start of WWI through the Cold War. Grayzel
analyzes government archives, personal letters and diaries, journalism, and cultural texts from newsreels and home movies to novels and cartoons to explore how war evolved from sending young men to distant battlefields to a situation affecting every civilian, from the first woman to assist grayzel victims of air raids in London to the last homeowner to build a nuclear fallout shelter. As a side project to this research, Grayzel is completing a book tentatively titled Chemical Reactions: Gas Masks and Civilian Bodies in Imperial Britain, 1915-45, which traces how one artifact – the gas mask – became the emblem of the state’s civil defense measures. The scholarly literature on civilians at war has been developing slowly over the last several decades. As educational trends advance toward providing a more inclusive historical context for wartime experience, Grayzel’s expertise is quickly outgrowing niche status. Her momentum as a scholar is evidenced by her selection as the author of The First World War: A Brief History with Documents in the Bedford Series on History and Culture, which is widely used in college-level introductory history courses. “It’s an honor to be a feminist historian asked to write the volume on the first world war,” Grayzel said. “Sometimes I hear from people out of the blue who have read and liked this book or are using it in the classroom, and it is extremely gratifying.” In addition to authoring books for the classroom, Grayzel has written two monographs. In 1999, she published the prize-winning Women’s Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War. And her 2012 book, At Home and Under Fire: Air Raids and Culture in Britain from the Great War to the Blitz, was issued in paperback in 2014 by Cambridge University Press. “I often ask my students, ‘When do wars end?’” Grayzel said. “Of course they end when treaties are signed, but if you look at the impact on individual families coping with loss and injury, the actual dates of the end of conflict could be very different. “I’m not a historian of leaders and generals; I’m very interested in how ordinary, everyday people come to terms with war.” CA
I’m very interested in how ordinary, everyday people come to terms with war.
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Meet Denise Caldwell (BS 68) Division Director, Division of Physics, Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, National Science Foundation
You graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1968 with a major in chemistry, a minor in physics and a minor in German in what was then known as the Honors Program. You were a Taylor Medal recipient and later a Fulbright scholar in Germany. Tell me about your early background and what led you to pursue these academic interests and enroll at the University of Mississippi. I grew up in Kemper County, Mississippi, about 20 miles north of Meridian. When I was in the ninth grade, I read a book, Explaining the Atom, and I was just fascinated. I more or less decided at that point that I wanted to become an atomic scientist. By the time I was a junior in high school, the National Science Foundation was sponsoring a summer science traineeship program. These programs were held at various universities across the U.S. That summer, between my junior and senior year, one of these workshops was held at Ole Miss. I applied and was admitted and spent the summer at Ole Miss. During my senior year, because of my first experience at Ole Miss, I knew that’s where I wanted to go to college. I was the first member of my family to go to university. Later, both of my sisters and my brother-in-law also went to Ole Miss, and one of my nephews just graduated from Ole Miss. It has become our family school.
After graduating from the University of Mississippi, you attended graduate school in physics, receiving a Ph.D. from Columbia University. How did your experience as an undergraduate at the University of Mississippi prepare you for your graduate career, and do you feel your experience at the University of Mississippi has influenced your professional experience? caldwell
Since graduating from Ole Miss and moving on, and interacting with people of my generation who graduated from perhaps more highly recognized universities, I don’t think I have ever met anyone who had a better liberal arts education than I had. I believe that your four years of undergraduate training should prepare you broadly for thinking. Whatever you do afterwards, it always draws on those four years. Liberal arts education teaches you to be open to new ideas, different ideas, inquiry and other cultures. For example, I had a minor in German. All of a sudden, you read the literature in the language in which it was written, and that opens up an entirely new experience and allows you to feel comfortable in a global environment. A liberal arts education prepares you for accepting change because you can think more broadly; it assists in accepting change in a changing world and culture.
Q Before joining the National Science Foundation in 1995, you were an assistant professor of physics at Yale University and a professor of physics at the University of Central Florida. You published more than 60 papers in peer-reviewed journals. Tell me a bit about your research during that time.
My research can be loosely described as experimental atomic and molecular physics, heavily spectroscopy-oriented. I did most of my research using synchrotron radiation, which is higher energy than the visible light that we are normally familiar with, enough to ionize atoms and molecules. By measuring the electrons that come off, you can get information about the spectroscopic structure and internal dynamics of the way the electrons behave in the atom. It was pure basic research, although, as is generally true with basic research, there is application of the knowledge to a broad range of technical areas.
. Between 1995 and 2007 at the National Science Foundation, you served as program director in the Physics Division with responsibility for three programs: Atomic, Molecular, Optical and Plasma Physics; Biological Physics, now known as the Physics of Living Systems; and Physics Frontiers Centers, the latter two which you created within the division. Tell me about your experiences advancing support for physics of living systems. Basically, it was started by the community. NSF responds to proposals from the community. What I saw happening in physics was that members of the community were interested in working with biological molecules and systems. They were asking, “What can physics bring to the table? What special expertise does physics have to offer for learning more about biology?” I looked around and actually had proposals from members of the community who had started working in this area. I also noticed that physics departments around the country were beginning to think about hiring in this area. My observation was that this was something the physics community wants to do. Physicists have ideas, they’re interested; physics departments are hiring in this area. The Physics Division needs to recognize this and prepare to support research in this direction. My creation of that program was essentially a response to that. The program has since grown. It’s currently about five or six times the funding levels than it was at its inception.
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In January, you visited the University of Mississippi to be a featured guest speaker at the American Physical Society’s Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. Tell me about that experience. Broadening participation is one of the major goals of the NSF and Physics Division. We would like to see more young women go into physics. I consider it extremely important to the scientific community and to the nation that no talent goes to waste. We are looking for talent and we want to encourage that talent. Workshops such as this are a means to help achieve this end.
At NSF, you are the division director, Division of Physics, Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. Tell me about the role of the Physics Division and your responsibilities as director. The division director is the final decision-maker for the NSF investment in the areas of physics supported by the division and is expected to help provide the direction for the investment for these areas. What are some of the things we invest in? To give one example, the Physics Division is responsible for the U.S. investment in LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) at the University of Mississippi. That’s a huge investment, and the direct detection of gravitational waves would be a major scientific breakthrough. The Physics Division has an investment in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where the Higgs boson was discovered, and it partially supported the work that led to the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics. The goal of the division is to push forward the frontiers of science through what we invest in, while at the same time contributing to the training of the advanced high-tech workforce that is so important to the nation’s future. CA
Meet Jacob Gdovin Ph.D. student in Health & Kinesiology
Jacob Gdovin, a doctoral student in the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management, is among 20 winners of 2015-2016 Graduate Student Council Research Awards, which will allow Gdovin to study performance differences among athletes wearing football cleats, soccer cleats and traditional running shoes.
Gdovin will solicit 20 trained athletes to participate in the study during the 2015 fall semester. Each study participant will have played soccer or football while wearing cleats for at least one hour a week over the past year. To analyze their movements, Gdovin will use the department’s Applied Biomechanics Laboratory, where athletes will wear retro-reflective markers on various body landmarks, such as the joints in their legs, and be monitored with a motion capture system that records and analyzes their movements. While the athletes wear the three different types of footwear, Gdovin will study the differences in their performance of four types of movements: a vertical jump, a broad jump, a side-cut task and sprint initiation. Enhancing performance is a paramount goal among athletes. While shoe and cleat manufacturers may make marketing claims about the advantages of a particular style, arrangement or size of cleats, Gdovin hopes to help separate fact from fiction.
“I love sports and I love working with athletes,” Gdovin said. “My ultimate goal is to have my own biomechanics, strength conditioning and rehabilitation lab. If I want to be able to work with athletes, I need to understand what equipment they wear and how it affects their performance. Not a lot of research has been done with football cleats, so I decided I wanted to run with it.” The research will serve as a starting point for Gdovin’s dissertation. In future research projects, he hopes to study the effects of other types of sport-specific footwear on movements in different sports. In addition to improving performance, the research could potentially limit injuries. Gdovin’s adviser is Jay Garner, interim chair of the department and associate professor of exercise science. “Jacob is a bright young researcher with a wealth of potential,” Garner said. “His undergraduate and master’s-level training have put him in a great position to develop and pursue a vibrant line of research. The interaction of footwear and athletics will continue to progress, and Jacob is well positioned to contribute to the field.” The Graduate Student Council Research Award is jointly sponsored by the UM Graduate School and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Gdovin will use his funding to acquire materials for the study, including several sets of football and soccer cleats and artificial field turf necessary to complete the experiments. CA
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A forensic â€œCrime Scene Investigationâ€? activity enlivens the classroom and introduces scientific concepts.
Shaping the Next Generation of Scientists From summer camps to school outreach programs, the University of Mississippi provides many programs designed to ignite a passion for learning in young minds. And when outreach meets research, the outcome is often extraordinary. Take a recent classroom experience at Oxford Middle School, where students conducted a mock crime scene investigation thanks to a forensics unit developed by Brenteria Travis, a UM doctoral student in computer science. Travis has served as a fellow in the NASA Space Grant program for three years. Through NASA Space Grant, managed by the Mississippi Space Grant Consortium, Travis is a three-time recipient of a competitively selected $17,000 fellowship that includes 10 hours of weekly outreach service to K-12 students. A native of Canton, Mississippi, Travis received her undergraduate degree in computer science with a minor in business administration from Mississippi Valley State University before continuing her studies at Ole Miss. She was inspired to apply for the fellowship after learning about its outreach component. As an
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undergraduate, she served as president of Women in Science and Technology, an organization for aspiring female scientists. For the outreach component of her fellowship, Travis served as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, liaison for an intellectually gifted program at Oxford Middle School. Her task was to incorporate STEM-related activities into the curriculum. Given free range, Travis developed exciting and innovative ideas, including implementing the popular forensics unit and introducing students to software programs that help flex their technological muscles, such as Google Earth and Animoto. Other activities included building parachutes, Rube Goldberg machines and introductory Android apps. â€œThe Space Grant fellowship provided me the opportunity to teach and motivate our youth, and these experiences give me a
The campers get to experience something they might not otherwise have an opportunity to do, and they get to see themselves as a scientist, an engineer and an explorer.
Scan this code to watch high school students work in a UM chemistry lab.
The StarLab, an inflatable, digital planetarium, can be used for school demonstrations.
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I learned how to use mass spectrometers, how to synthesize material and how to do UV spectrometry and cyclic voltammetry.
great sense of purpose,” Travis said. “Starting STEM education early makes the transition to a STEM college curriculum less alarming and more exciting for students.” As the central office for the Mississippi Space Grant Consortium, UM serves as the administrative lead for management of NASA Space Grant and NASA EPSCoR funds at the state’s four research universities, four regional colleges and eight of the state’s 15 community colleges. The Mississippi Space Grant Consortium is directed by Nathan Murray, research scientist in the National Center for Physical Acoustics and research assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who assumed the director position last year. “When I saw what Space Grant could do in Mississippi, it really attracted me,” Murray said. “The programs it includes support STEM education, and that is highly valuable for our young people. Additionally, Mississippi has identified aerospace as a target industry; in order to grow that economic sector, you’ve got to be able to train people for the industry to provide that work force. Getting more opportunity for students to develop these skills – that’s where Space Grant plays a role.” In addition to funding fellowships, a portion of NASA Space Grant funding is directed toward improving K-12 education through a teacher leadership conference sponsored on the Ole Miss campus. The teacher leadership conference, which has been held at UM for more than a decade, recently was expanded in conjunction with the university’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education. Middle school teachers from throughout the state are invited to the two-day conference, during which they learn hands-on activities and receive a bag of materials they can take back to their classrooms. In recent years, participating teachers have made model rockets and experienced the StarLab, an inflatable, digital planetarium that can be used for school demonstrations. High school students from around the country have traveled to the university to participate in a chemistry outreach program established by Amal Dass, associate professor of chemistry and
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Students use liquid nitrogen to freeze ice cream in an activity designed to engage them in chemistry.
biochemistry. In its fourth year, the program allows two to four students to work in Dass’s lab for several weeks. Jacob Thrasher, a rising sophomore in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, first visited UM as a student in Dass’s program. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, and the child of an Ole Miss alumnus, Thrasher showed a strong aptitude for chemistry in high school and sought out
Rambukwella participation in the program. The experience allowed him to learn about the laboratory and safety protocols under the mentorship of a graduate student before moving on to actually use the equipment. Ultimately, he was included as a co-author in a peer-reviewed academic publication – an exceptional feat for even an advanced undergraduate and highly unusual for a high school student.
“We had a paper published that focused on electrochemistry,” Thrasher said. “I learned how to use mass spectrometers, how to synthesize material and how to do UV spectrometry and cyclic voltammetry. It was really motivational for my career path and was a great learning experience.”
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EXTRA! Scan this code to watch campers learn about deep sea exploration.
Left: Students learn about the science and engineering associated with deep-sea exploration at the SSROV camp. Below: Amal Dass leads an outreach activity.
Working with high school students proved to be enlightening, said Milan Rambukwella, a chemistry doctoral student and a mentor in the program. “There is the benefit to them, but there is also a benefit to us,” Rambukwella said. “They have many specific questions, and answering those questions challenges you to learn how to better explain certain concepts.” The summer high school chemistry outreach program is one component of a National Science Foundation CAREER award that Dass received in 2013. Besides the educational funding, the NSF CAREER award funds Dass’s research in the production of atomically precise gold molecules in the nanometersize regime. In another educational aspect of the award, Dass runs outreach programs in economically underprivileged high schools across north Mississippi. A two-year relationship with North Panola High School allowed him to help a chemistry teacher integrate labs into the curriculum, including an exercise in which students used liquid nitrogen to freeze ice cream and another in which they watched their instructor heat and bend glass. “When we began visiting North Panola High School, we wanted students to see proper chemistry protocol and engage in interesting and visually appealing parts of chemistry,” Dass said. “We began to incorporate experiments, and eventually our role took a back seat and the students’ role as scientists came to the forefront.” When summer heat swelters, campers at the Seafloor Science and Remotely Operated Vehicle Camp, or SSROV Camp, have an opportunity to submerge themselves in the science of ocean exploration. Geoff Wheat, director of the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology, pioneered the creation of the camp,
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which is hosted in Monterey, California, and in north Mississippi. The camp is funded by the university, NIUST, NASA, NSFUSC (C-DEBI) and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Based jointly at UM and the University of Southern Mississippi, NIUST was established in 2002 and is charged with developing and applying new technologies to enhance undersea research. The SSROV camp’s activities are designed to inspire and teach middle school-aged children about the science and engineering associated with deep-sea exploration. Hands-on learning activities allow them to learn how scientists and engineers calibrate sensors, collect data and program robotic devices to explore the ocean’s depths. In its second year, the camp emphasizes the importance of planning, preparation, teamwork and problem-solving while learning through fun activities. “We hope this camp provides an experience that will excite young people about marine science,” Wheat said. “The campers get to experience something they might not otherwise have an opportunity to do, and they get to see themselves as a scientist, an engineer and an explorer. When the summer’s over and they return to school, they are returning with a stronger, more engaged interest in science and technology.” CA (Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.)
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Outstanding Article of the Year Accolade Given to Pharmacy Professor’s Paper
Bouldin Selected as APhA Fellow
John P. Bentley, professor of pharmacy administration, is the author of an article that has been named the Outstanding Article of the Year by the International Society for Quality of Life Research. The article, “Functional status, life-space mobility and quality of life: a longitudinal mediation analysis” was published in 2013 in Quality of Life Research. A major distinction of the article is Bentley’s highly original approach to testing relationships proposed in Wilson and Cleary’s model, a conceptual model of patient outcomes that describes how biological and physiological variables affect quality of life. Collaborating with researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Johns Hopkins University, Bentley used longitudinal data to better understand the implications of the model as they relate to the mediating role of life-space mobility in the relationship between functional status and quality of life over time. Through application of longitudinal data, Bentley’s research findings support the importance of maintaining mobility to sustain high quality of life, especially with respect to mental health.
Alicia Bouldin, associate dean and professor in the School of Pharmacy, has been named a 2015 fellow of the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Pharmaceutical Research and Science. The prestigious designation, which is limited to only 15 recipients a year, honors professional achievement and service to the pharmacy profession. During more than two decades of APhA membership, Bouldin has been an active participant and collaborator in the association, fostering professional and leadership development. Additionally, she has served as a reviewer for the association’s journal and as an academic adviser for the University of Mississippi’s chapter of the APhA Academy of Student Pharmacists. Bouldin was honored with the distinction at the 2015 APhA Annual Meeting and Exposition in San Diego.
Brain Appeal The March 2015 Issue of Brain, Behavior, and Evolution selected as its editor’s pick an article by Lainy Day, UM associate professor of biology, and Willow Lindsay, post-doctoral student and lead author. Their research examined the courtship displays of male manakins (Pipridae), a clade of birds that lives in Central and South America. Studying 12 different species of manakins and a closely related bird, Day and Lindsay found greater complexities in courtship dances are associated with larger brain size. The different species’ courtship displays vary in complexity from simple alterations in flight patterns to acrobatic displays.
NSF Genealogy of Life Grant Supports UM Biologist A collaborative research team including Erik Hom, UM assistant professor of biology, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Genealogy of Life, or GoLife, award. The award will allow the team to search for new species of fungi and to better understand the interactions that occur between plants and fungi. Specifically, the project will accelerate the discovery of a group of fungi called Pezizomycotina, many of which are hidden within the healthy leaves of plants and within lichens. These understudied fungi could be a rich source of secondary metabolite compounds for new pharmaceutical and biocontrol products. The project also may lead to a better understanding of the origin of plants and how they evolved. The team plans to conduct fieldwork in Panama in spring 2016 and conduct additional sampling expeditions in Chile, South Africa and Malaysia. Discussions between Hom and the project’s lead investigator, Francois Lutzoni, ultimately led to this grant proposal, and began after some of Hom’s research was published in Science, one of the world’s top scientific journals. Hom brings to the GoLife team unique expertise on the interactions between fungi and phototrophic microbes. The group includes faculty members from Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of Arizona and the University of Connecticut.
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SUCCESS: EPSCoR Track II Award Accelerates Research Competitiveness
$6 million, four-year research project to explore using sunlight to generate fuel and improve food production will be led by Nathan Hammer, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Mississippi. The award is sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, and will be a collaboration between researchers at UM, Mississippi State University, Tulane University and the University of Alabama. Hammer is principal investigator of the project, titled “Feeding and Powering the World – Capturing Sunlight to Split Water and Generate Fertilizer and Fuels.” The scientific goals being pursued in the project are manifold. One goal is to establish technologies that can extract hydrogen from water using sunlight. Another is to establish technologies that can turn carbon dioxide into useful fuels. A third goal is to create new materials that can make sunlight split nitrogen, a process that could advance the way fertilizers are made. The Haber-Bosch process, pioneered in 1910, is an industrial process for producing ammonia from nitrogen and
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hydrogen that revolutionized agriculture by allowing the mass production of fertilizer, quadrupling crop productivity. However, this process is highly energy-intensive and requires nonrenewable resources. The ability to split nitrogen with sunlight would allow fertilizer to be produced sustainably. hammer UM collaborators include Jared Delcamp, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Lori Wolff, director of the Dr. Maxine Harper Center for Educational Research and Evaluation. The project will fund postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduates and high school students. “This grant increases our regional visibility and demonstrates that we are a sophisticated chemistry department with a growing graduate research enterprise,” said Chuck Hussey, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “It also provides funds for the purchase of much-needed equipment and enables us to support a larger number of graduate research assistants and postdoctoral students.”
Hammer’s research awards have sponsored the placement of more than 50 undergraduate and graduate students in his research lab.
Hammer’s NSF CAREER and EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-1 Grant have sponsored the placement of more than 50 undergraduate and graduate students in his research lab. In addition to helping advance Hammer’s research work, the lab experience allows students to gain hands-on training that is essential for them to gain entry into advanced degree programs. Undergraduates working in Hammer’s lab have gained valuable experience, including traveling to national and international conferences and co-authoring research publications. Nine different undergraduate students appear as co-authors, including six as first author. Two of his former undergraduate students have received
The award builds on a series of successes for Hammer, who received an NSF CAREER award in 2010 and is the principal investigator on an NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates award that sponsors a Chemistry Summer Research Program. That award, initially granted in 2012, has been competitively renewed (1460568) through 2018 and increased to fund 10 additional student researchers per year. He was also senior personnel on an NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-1 Grant (EPS-0903787), a collaboration among the state’s four research universities administratively managed by Mississippi State University, and co-PI on a previous NSF award.
This grant increases our regional visibility and demonstrates that we are a sophisticated chemistry department with a growing graduate research enterprise.
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Undergraduates working in Hammer’s lab have traveled to international conferences and co-authored research publications.
Goldwater Scholarships, and both received NSF pre-doctoral fellowships at their graduate schools. Besides the educational opportunities students gain through his research grants, Hammer encourages professional service, which he believes also benefits students. Hammer is chair of the local section of the American Chemical Society. The section received the society’s 2015 ChemLuminary award for “Best Activity or Program in a Local Section Stimulating Membership Involvement” for developing a yearlong book club in which members received three titles and discussed their scientific and historic significance. Additionally, Hammer’s creation of an ACS honors banquet for students has helped spotlight success, encouraging students to strive for honors through their commitment to academics and research participation. In turn, students fuel the research enterprise as an essential part of the department’s research capacity. “I like to give students opportunities where if they can succeed, they will succeed,” Hammer said. “The key is giving them opportunities.” Hammer is also principal investigator on an NSF Major Research Instrumentation grant that has been recommended for funding by the NSF. The grant will allow Hammer to purchase a new high-resolution Raman Spectrometer. The spectrometer will be housed in Coulter Hall, where renovations have greatly expanded the footprint of Hammer’s lab. The Raman Spectrometer will directly benefit at least nine UM research faculty members.
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Hammer credits his success in earning major awards to the knowledge he has gained through years of experience in the grantwriting process, the support of his department and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and a philosophy toward his career that balances all three of the areas associated with professional advancement in academia: teaching, research and service. “The more you give of yourself to the university, the more successful you are in everything,” Hammer said. “The more service you do, the more opportunities you create. You may think you need to be in the lab until midnight churning out data, but you also need to show students you care. “My philosophy is that teaching and research and service are intertwined. Working in all three of those areas is critical for success in any one of those areas. Being able to help serve those in the community helps us. Teaching helps recruit students and make them good researchers.” Hammer’s success benefits the entire department, Hussey said. “Dr. Hammer is a star faculty member,” Hussey said. “His positive teaching and research activities have affected all aspects of the department’s mission. They also provide a positive example and encouragement for our younger faculty members as they embark on their careers.” “Feeding and Powering the World - Capturing Sunlight to Split Water and Generate Fertilizer and Fuels” is funded by EPSCoR Cooperative Agreement OIA-1539035. CA
Meet Charles Hussey Chair and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Winner of the 2015 Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award Charles Hussey, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is the recipient of the 2015 Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award. Hussey’s research focuses on studying ionic liquids, or salts in a liquid state, that remain liquid at room temperature and retain high electrical conductivity, characteristics that make them highly advantageous for certain technological applications. Hussey’s research has made him a pioneer of several potential applications for room-temperature chloroaluminate ionic liquids, one of which may revolutionize techniques used to plate aluminum on steel. The standard commercial process for plating aluminum requires a mix of chemicals that is toxic, combustible and dangerous. The work must be done inside a special, sealed facility filled with inert argon gas. Hussey’s team is investigating a safer alternative process in which ionic liquids based on aluminum compounds could serve as solvents for the plating. These salts can be easily handled in dry air and are not combustible. In 2014, Hussey’s postdoctoral student and collaborators at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory were recognized by R&D Magazine for developing a portable device to perform an aluminum brush plating process using this low-melting aluminum-based ionic liquid. Brush plating is a technique in which electroplating is performed by seemingly “brushing the coating metal,” as if it were paint, onto the surface being plated. In actuality, the coating is being electroplated under the surface of the brush using direct current. Hussey and his team have plated both aluminum and aluminummanganese alloy, which is highly corrosion-resistant, using this method. Aluminum and aluminum-manganese alloy are often used to make steel corrosion-resistant in a saltwater or marine environment. Hussey’s simple, straightforward technology could also greatly enhance the competitiveness of American manufacturers by reducing costs. The device, which was included among R&D Magazine’s list of the 100 most technologically significant products of the year, could be used to effectively and more efficiently apply and repair protective coatings on steel aircraft parts. While specialized facilities are typically required for this type of repair, the device could allow field repairs to be carried out at the level of a Department of Defense repair depot. In addition to recognition by R&D Magazine, Hussey recently has earned several other prestigious awards and recognitions. He received the Electrochemical Society’s 2014 Max Bredig Award in Molten Salt and Ionic Liquid Chemistry and the 2015 Southeastern Conference Faculty Achievement Award. A prolific scholar, Hussey has produced more than 150 peerreviewed publications and book chapters. He has received
competitive funding from many foundations and agencies, including the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, NATO and ALCOA. An active member of many professional societies, he has served as an editor for the Journal of the Electrochemical hussey Society since 2001, and in 2003 was elected a fellow of the Electrochemical Society, an honor restricted to the top 3 percent of the society’s membership. Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry for 18 years, Hussey has led the department through a time of unprecedented growth. It has become one of the largest programs in the region, the number of doctoral students has doubled and the number of Ole Miss undergraduates selecting chemistry/ biochemistry as a major has increased tenfold, to more than 370 students. The construction of an $18 million research annex on Coulter Hall, the department’s home, was completed this summer and has enabled the department to attract quality new faculty. The Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award honors a faculty member who has made outstanding contributions to his or her profession and to the university. The award is made possible by sponsorship from Pharmaceutics International Inc. Syed Abidi, CEO of PII, is an Ole Miss alumnus. “I am very honored to be chosen for the distinction and pleased to be recognized for a lifetime of achievement in my field of study,” Hussey said. CA B R I E F LY N O TE D
Southern Doc Wins Emmy The Southern Documentary Project has won an Emmy Award for “Best Historical Documentary” from the Southeast division of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for “The Toughest Job: William Winter’s Mississippi.” The film chronicles the life of Mississippi’s 57th governor, known for his dedication to progressive change and education reform. The film was made by Matthew Graves, a senior producer with the Southern Documentary Project, which is an institute of the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture.
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This is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our growth and successes over the past two decades.
larry a. walker
NCNPR was created to discover, develop, and commercialize natural products as pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals.
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National Center for Natural Products Research Celebrates 20th Anniversary Since 1995, the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy’s inaugural research center has been setting the bar in the areas of natural products chemistry, botanical supplements development and marijuana research – and more. “We’re delighted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the National Center for Natural Products Research this year,” said Larry A. Walker, the center’s director. “This is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our growth and successes over the past two decades.” The NCNPR was created to discover, develop and commercialize natural products as pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. It is the only university-affiliated research center devoted to improving human health and agricultural productivity through the discovery, development and commercialization of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals derived from natural products. The center has grown significantly since its modest beginning. Organized under the umbrella of the pharmacy school’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, the NCNPR was authorized formally by federal legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in 1988 and began operations in 1995. A group of key people joined forces to create the center. That group included James McChesney, former chair and professor of pharmacognosy, who conceptualized the center; Kenneth Roberts, dean emeritus of the pharmacy school; Chancellor Gerald Turner; and representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the late Horace Cutler. “When we first occupied the north half of our building in 1995, I think we had 24 total people at that time,” Walker said. “I remember being uncertain about exactly how we would
put together the funding pieces and grow the program. We had a few small grants and a number of great ideas, but we were definitely breaking new ground.” Alice M. Clark, now the university’s vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, was named the center’s first director in 1996. Working with Walker, who was then associate director, Clark visualized the center’s infrastructure and began building the program from scratch. Clark said the center’s early achievements fell into two categories, the first being research discoveries that advanced the science of medicinal plants and drug discovery and development. The second were strategic advancements that led to new partnerships and growth. “On a very basic level, our earliest goals were to put the people and resources in place to make scientific advancements that would lead to key strategic and sustainable partnerships,” Clark said. “On a larger level, the goal was to bring to life the center’s mission. A key factor in achieving this was the ability to leverage the faculty in the academic departments in the School of Pharmacy, and the support of these faculty members was essential.” The school’s departments were instrumental in growing the NCNPR. The pharmacognosy department moved its screening program and nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers to the center, while the medicinal chemistry department also relocated its molecular modeling and laboratory of drug design there.
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paved the way for other federal collaborations. “The center’s partnerships have resulted in many joint projects, publications, patents, technologies and knowledge that have advanced science and informed policy and consumer decisions,” Clark said. “And strategically, they have helped establish an environment that has led to the development of additional strong, productive collaborations.” In the late ’90s, the pharmacy school’s marijuana project became under the purview of the NCNPR. Since 1968, the school has been the sole supplier of marijuana and its constituents for research purposes in the U.S. The project is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Contract No. HHSN271201500023C and is one of the longestrunning projects sponsored by the agency. Clark recalls a moment in the late ’90s where she khan realized that the center was truly fulfilling its goal. “We were hosting visitors from the relatively new National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements,” she said. “We were meeting in Room 1018 and it occurred to me in that moment, when they were seeking our advice on issues relevant at the national level, that we had, indeed, achieved the level of national impact that we originally envisioned for the center.” In 2001, Walker was named director. That year, the center launched its partnership with
“There were some very significant people in the departments who bought into the idea of the center,” said Charles D. Hufford, associate dean emeritus. “They helped us get the programs going.” The USDA’s Agricultural Research Services moved its Natural Products Utilization Research Unit to the center in 1996. Stephen O. Duke was named research leader of the unit. “Over the years, university and USDA scientists of the NCNPR have synergized each other’s research in many ways,” Duke said. “This close partnership has enabled new avenues of highly successful research for both groups.” The formalization of the previously established partnership was a major step for the center that
The Maynard W. Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden was dedicated in 2012.
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the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It formally recognized the Center of Excellence on Botanical Dietary Supplement Research in 2006. “The Center of Excellence has accomplished a great deal since its creation,“ said Ikhlas A. Khan, director of the COE and associate director of the NCNPR. “We established a repository focused on medicinal plants and a ‘living collection’ of botanicals. We have also contributed research that has helped the FDA to make regulatory decisions.” Training of FDA field inspectors is an important part of the COE. Multiple times per year, trainees attend a workshop at the NCNPR that teaches about approaches toward verifying identity and quality of botanical supplements. The workshop includes a trip to the center’s medicinal plant garden, where participants can experience the living botanicals. To date, the program has trained more than 600 inspectors. The COE has assumed a leadership role in bringing together experts from around the world to discuss issues related to medicinal plants and dietary supplements. In 2001, the NCNPR hosted the first International Conference on the Science of Botanicals. The annual conference has been instrumental in facilitating conversation related to botanicals among scientists, industry leaders and other interested parties. The expertise that has developed within the center is unmatched. “We have many special areas where we have a lot of knowledge, like in antifungal natural products, authentication of botanical supplements, research on developing drugs from marijuana and research on the pharmacology of antimalarial drugs,” Walker said. “We have great resources with our repository and screening program. I would say that we likely have the largest critical mass of people in our discipline.” One example of the center’s specialized knowledge is illustrated in the area of immunostimulants. David Pasco, NCNPR associate director, has worked extensively with a microalgae called spirulina that has been shown to boost the immune system when taken as an extract. “We’ve found that the extract has an impact on joint pain and even skin elasticity,” Pasco said. “We hope to further investigate spirulina to see if it could support immune function
NCNPR Milestones • The NCNPR was authorized by Congress in 1988 and began operations in July 1995. • Alice M. Clark was named director of the center in the fall of 1996, giving the national research center its first permanent director. Larry A. Walker became director in 2001. • In fall 1996, the south sections of the second and third floors of the center were completed and the space was occupied. • In October 1996, the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service’s Natural Products Utilization Research Unit began its work at the center. The partnership has produced numerous joint projects, publications and patents for the development and application of natural products for pharmaceutical and agricultural uses. • The center’s partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration launched in 2001. The partnership focuses on the development of standards for a broad range of herbal products commonly used in dietary supplements. • In 2001, the inaugural International Conference on the Science of Botanicals was held. The annual event brings together scientists from around the world to discuss issues related to medicinal plants and dietary supplements. • On Sept. 23, 2005, the center celebrated its 10th anniversary. Senator Thad Cochran delivered the keynote address. • Planning for a new addition to the Thad Cochran Research Center began in 2005. Health Resources and Services Administration funding made planning of the new addition possible. The 250-seat auditorium expansion was completed by summer 2008. • In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration established the Center of Excellence on Botanical Dietary Supplement Research. • The Maynard W. Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden began constructing a new facility in 2009. The facility was dedicated in 2012. • The center hosted the American Society of Pharmacognosy’s annual meeting in 2014. • The Thad Cochran Research Center West Wing was dedicated in 2015. The building, which completes the two-building National Center for Natural Products complex, allows researchers to advance their drug discoveries to the commercialization stage. It is one of the most advanced facilities in the region.
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The west wing, dedicated in 2015, is one of the most advanced facilities of its kind in the region.
in patients who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment.” With more than 100 people on staff including USDA employees, the center’s influence on natural products research can be felt near and far. That influence begins with the people that the NCNPR has trained, Walker said. “I believe we’ve made an enormous impact in a global sense by training people in natural products chemistry and giving them experiences in the field,” Walker said. “These people are now working in industry, at the FDA and at universities all over the world. We have a kind of legacy from that and it’s amplified because these people tell others about us.” The center has elevated the state of Mississippi in multiple ways, Clark said. “We are seen as experts by people from every region, and that is a significant accomplishment that shines a very positive light on our state,” she said. “Also affecting Mississippi, the center has been a major job creator, and because many of the jobs are funded by sources outside of Mississippi, dollars from outside of the state are reaching the local and state economies.” David D. Allen, the pharmacy school’s dean and executive director of RIPS, applauds Clark and Walker for their leadership.
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“(Drs. Clark and Walker) have championed the center over the years and led it to great success,” Allen said. “There are many reasons why I came to the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy; one of them was undoubtedly the prestige of the National Center for Natural Products Research.” Walker credits his team-oriented colleagues for the center’s many successes. “The work that we do is not about people building their own careers; it’s about what we as pharmacists, biologists, chemists, etc., can do together to impact health care or agriculture,” Walker said. “I think we have a sense of family here, and a real team approach.” The future brings a variety of exciting prospects, Walker said. From investigating marine natural products to developing FDA-approved botanical drugs, there is much to learn and discover. “Broadly speaking, I think the most exciting thing is the potential that natural products have for impacting human health in the post-genomic era,” Walker said. “With our new understanding of the human genome and its expression, and of the complex signaling pathways that regulate it, we are finding new and exciting ways that natural products can prevent and treat disease. “We used to think we were going to just design a drug, hit a certain target and cure the corresponding disease. Now we know – at least in many diseases like cancer and infectious diseases – that it’s not that simple. You have to take a broader approach. I think this is an area where natural products can play a role, and we’re in a great position to make substantial contributions.” Clark agrees that the future is bright for the NCNPR. “The center will achieve more than I can envision,” she said. “I know that because I know that 20 years ago I could never have imagined all that has happened and been accomplished during these past two decades. Whatever the future accomplishments will be, I believe that they will continue to surprise us and surpass any expectations we could set today.” CA
Meet Mariah Cole Undergraduate Student Pursuing a B.S. in Pharmaceutical Sciences Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College A freshman-level honors course led to a surprising connection for Mariah Cole, an undergraduate in the School of Pharmacy’s early entry program. While taking Honors 102 with John Rimoldi, professor of medicinal chemistry, COLE Cole learned that Rimoldi’s research included topics related to neurological diseases. With two family members who have been affected by Parkinson’s disease, she was immediately fascinated by Rimoldi’s work due to her personal connections. Now a rising junior, Cole is an undergraduate research assistant in Rimoldi’s lab. She sought the opportunity early in her sophomore year to better prepare for the research thesis required of students in the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. “I went to Dr. Rimoldi to have a conversation about why I was interested, and we decided I would work with him,” Cole said. “I started working with his graduate students and helping them out. They gave me a feel for how the lab works and showed me around.” “Mariah’s decision to engage in laboratory research early in her college experience was significant,” Rimoldi said. “It gave her ample time to learn standard chemistry protocols and to work alongside graduate students and senior personnel.” This summer, Cole was awarded a fellowship sponsored by the Center of Research Excellence in Natural Products Neuroscience,
a research and educational program at UM funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health under award number P20GM104932 as one of its Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence. Rimoldi is director of the group’s Chemistry Core, which provides lead optimization, analytical expertise, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetic data on natural products and compounds of interest to the group. “The fellowship Mariah received is highly prestigious and allowed her to participate in many advanced research activities in the lab, including synthesizing and analyzing new compounds that were screened for biological activity against cannabinoid receptors, which are therapeutic targets involved in disease progression in a number of neurodegenerative disorders,” Rimoldi said. “She is a phenomenal scientist that loves research and drug discovery. I am excited to have her continue to work with me for a few more years.” Cole, a native of Meridian, Mississippi, based her decision to attend the university on the strong reputation of the Honors College and the ability to participate in the early entry pharmacy program, which allows academically gifted students to be fast-tracked into a professional degree program. “I’m from Mississippi and wanted to stay in the state, and I wanted to be part of the Honors College because I wanted to write a thesis,” Cole said. “Being in the Honors College led me to this research experience, and I have also benefitted from being in the early entry program.” After graduation, Cole hopes to pursue a doctorate in pharmacy and eventually to work at a pharmaceutical company or research hospital. CA
B R I E F LY N O TE D
Watkins Receives Junior Faculty Enhancement Award Davita L. Watkins, UM assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is the recipient of a Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award. The award will contribute to Watkins’ research on understudied non-covalent interactions between molecules, specifically halogen bonding
interactions in complex molecular systems. The research promises to contribute to fundamental knowledge and has potential to produce advancements in alternative energy research. The Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award is sponsored by Oak Ridge Associated
Universities and recognizes faculty members who are in the first two years of a tenure-track position. Recipients receive $5,000 with an additional $5,000 institutional match. The funds may be used to purchase equipment, continue research or travel to conferences or professional meetings.
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n a first for the University of Mississippi, two faculty members are receiving National Science Foundation CAREER awards in the same year. The 2015 winners are Jared Delcamp, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Sarah Liljegren, associate professor of biology. CAREER awards are the most prestigious given by the NSF to junior faculty members. They span five years, integrate support for research and education, and are intended to support the career development of the nation’s most promising young teacher-scholars. Delcamp joined the UM faculty in 2013. His award funds research in a new method of generating solar energy and a three-part education plan. The education plan includes creating a novel
cross-discipline chemistry survey course designed to give undergraduates a “big picture” understanding of the implications of the sciences, a summer research experience that will allow undergraduate students to work in his lab and outreach programs in economically underprivileged Mississippi high schools designed to invigorate chemistry involvement. Delcamp’s research examines the use of organic molecules to convert sunlight to electricity, a next-generation solar technology that has potential to be more efficient and more affordable than the silicon solar cells in common use. The organic solar cells studied by Delcamp can be printed with machinery similar to traditional newspaper presses, and like the ink used in newspaper printing, the organic molecules Delcamp works with can be processed with a solution that
is allowed to dry on a solar cell device, similar to ink drying on paper. Because of the affordability of the organic material and its processing, the technology may ultimately lead to solar energy that is less expensive than electricity produced by coal. The university filed an international patent application on the use of the materials and is seeking a corporate partner to commercialize the technology. “The amount of energy consumed by humans is dwarfed by the amount of energy produced by the sun,” Delcamp said. “Many people believe the successful implementation of abundant solar technologies could eliminate the human use of finite resources. This would be a game changer for the planet.” Liljegren joined the faculty in 2011. Her CAREER award supports
Great Strides NSF CAREER Awards Help Junior Faculty Build Strong Foundations
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The amount of energy consumed by humans is dwarfed by the amount of energy produced by the sun.
pioneering research in a key area of plant development and enhances education in genetics. Liljegren is investigating abscission, the process that allows plants to selectively release their leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds, and the award will allow her to pursue a new research direction. “We will be looking at the unique boundary regions that form between plant organs like flowers and their stems,” Liljegren said. “By studying Arabidopsis mutants that disrupt these boundaries and alter the abscission
process, we can discover which design elements of these boundaries are essential for organ detachment.” Since abscission is a trait that affects crop yield, uncovering the contributions of specific genes may lead to applications that improve crop productivity. A major goal of Liljegren’s education plan is to increase genetic literacy among Ole Miss undergraduates in the sciences. Even fields that may not have traditionally included an emphasis on genetics will demand more knowledge in the area as
precision medicine reflecting patients’ unique genetic profiles becomes standard in health care. To move toward that goal, she will be working with other biology faculty to develop new laboratory modules for teaching genetics and is creating an Honors College course on genetics. These approaches will also be designed to help students better understand that teamwork is a critical part of science. “There is often a misperception that science is a solitary pursuit, so having students work together in groups illustrates
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The luxury of receiving five years of funding to establish a new research area in my lab is just fantastic.
the incredible value of teamwork and diverse viewpoints to rapidly moving fields of science such as molecular biology and genetics,” Liljegren said. “You have to be able to communicate with your peers and interact with others in the lab to work together toward common goals. That team aspect facilitates creative thinking and is appealing to many people.” While applicants are allowed three attempts to compete for the award – once a year, for three years – both Delcamp and Liljegren received the award on their first attempts. Both were buoyed by strong support letters and previous experience garnering research funding through various programs. Delcamp and Liljegren both received previous support from Mississippi’s NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-1 Grant EPS-0903787, a collaboration among the state’s four research universities administratively managed by Mississippi State University. Liljegren was also the principal investigator on NSF Grant IOS1239311. As they developed their NSF CAREER grant applications, they were supported by UM faculty members who had previously applied for the grant and shared the fruits of their experiences. “Jason Hale in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs organized a one-day workshop where faculty who had received the award discussed their proposals and made them available,” Liljegren said. “That was so helpful, to
get direct input. We really benefited from hearing about their experiences with the review process.” Delcamp, who also attended the 2014 workshop, was mentored by Nathan Hammer, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, who received an NSF CAREER award in 2010. “Nathan Hammer was very influential in me getting this proposal,” Delcamp said. “I wasn’t even going to submit the proposal, but he convinced me. He did a tremendous amount of work helping me organize my ideas and helping me get them in the right format. Without it being restructured and reformatted, I don’t think I would have gotten it. I owe Nathan a great deal of gratitude.” “You can see a lot of potential in Jared, and he has brilliant ideas,” Hammer said. “We are very lucky to have him here, and I’m very lucky to have a collaborator in him.” By allowing researchers to fund students working in their labs and acquire needed supplies and equipment, the CAREER awards help recipients build the foundations of a strong research program, setting a course for future achievement. Delcamp recalls the elation he experienced upon learning he had received the funding. “My wife said she saw the years of stress evaporate from my face that day,” Delcamp said. “It helped change my life. Now I can focus on research.”
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Liljegren, delcamp “The luxury of receiving five years of funding to establish a new research area in my lab is just fantastic,” Liljegren said. “I’m excited to make the most of this opportunity.” Four UM faculty members received NSF CAREER awards in recent years, including Tammy Goulet, professor of biology, Nathan Hammer, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Emmanuel Berti, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and Amal Dass, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. (Jared Delcamp’s CAREER award is No. CHE-1455167, and Sarah Liljegren’s award is No. IOS-1453733.) CA
The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs will host an NSF CAREER workshop in spring 2016. Junior faculty members who are eligible for the award are encouraged to attend.
FY 15 AT A GLANCE
UM & UMMC
$117,264,417 in Sponsored Awards Other $4,213,052
Industry $8,155,610 FOUNDATIONS $16,574,284 state $11,137,928
NIH $39,821,743 USDA
Active License agreements
SBA $1,021,506 OTHER
Active startup Companies
$77,183,543 in Federal Awards
NIH national institute of health USDA U.S. Department of agriculture DOD department of defense DOE department of education DHHS department of health and human services SBA small business administration HRSA health resources and service administration NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration NSF national science foundation
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