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Released November 14, 2003

By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG -With the lab coat, the protective goggles, the test tubes, the studious expressions, Daniel Murin could pass for any other chemistry student at The University of Southern Mississippi. But when most people encounter Murin toiling away in the laboratories in Johnson Science Tower, where he's spent countless hours researching bacterial resistance to antibiotics, they're shocked to learn he's not a college student at all. He's a high school senior.

Dr. Sabine Heinhorst is used to such surprise. Since Murin first sought her expertise on a science fair project Murin was working on in the eighth grade, the Southern Miss chemistry professor has served as his mentor. Now, the 17-year old senior is earning class credit for his work at Southern Miss as part Oak Grove's Distinguished Scholars Program, which teaches students how to structure scientific and academic research.

"I went to school with Dr. Heinhorst's daughter, and she had always done really successful science fair projects," Murin said. "I asked her daughter if she could introduce us, and we've been working together every year since."

Having access to Dr. Heinhorst's knowledge and her equipment has allowed Murin to conduct research way beyond the scope of most high school science courses.

Murin said, "A lot of things I've done while working here are comparable to senior-level undergraduate and even graduate-level work. I'm grateful everyday to come to Southern Miss and to be in a town like Hattiesburg where the social life revolves around the university."

Murin - who is most interested in the life sciences, especially molecular biology and microbiology - has been conducting research since May on antibiotic resistance in chickens from commercial and free-range sources. The findings could have significant ramifications for human consumers, Murin said. "The feeds that commercial growers are using are spreading resistance to chickens, and people are affected by bacteria that antibiotics won't fix."

Dr. Heinhorst said Murin's yearlong research project as part of the Distinguished Scholars Program is not all chemistry, but a mixture of different disciplines. As part of the course's requirements, Murin must design and execute "mini-projects" in areas like math, psychology and library research. Monitored by Oak Grove teachers, who chart his progress, Murin was also required to complete a prerequisite course in literary resources at the Southern Miss Library. There, Murin had to locate and document about 50 topics, all on his own.

"Daniel comes in every day. He leaves Oak Grove at noon and comes to Southern Miss, where he stays until he's finished his goals. Over the years I've spent many hours with him, and he requires very little supervision," Dr. Heinhorst said.

She said Murin has already put in "way more than enough" hours to satisfy the course requirements, but he stays longer than expected because "he loves his research."

Murin will get a chance to share his "love" with college faculty and postdoctoral students at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences in February on the Gulf Coast. There, he'll be the only high school student presenting research, giving a 15-minute presentation on his findings.

Of course, Murin's hard work and precocious hunger for research has drawn the attention of college recruiters, as well as high praise from scientists across the country.

"We had a seminar speaker from the University of South Florida recently, and she was so surprised when she learned Daniel was still in high school," Dr. Heinhorst said. "She said, 'He's really one in a million.'"



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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM