HATTIESBURG - Eight
students from across the nation spent 10 weeks this summer participating
in hands-on laboratory research with more than a dozen faculty at
The University of Southern Mississippi as part of the EMPS Research
Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.
Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Southern
Miss and its industrial partners, the program allowed students to
pair with faculty in polymer science, working in small groups on
research projects. For months, students worked under laboratory
supervision of a graduate student and learned about the graduate
"My undergraduate research experience at Southern
Miss gave me a lot of insight on how research is really conducted
in the scientific community," said University of Wisconsin
chemistry major Jon Badger, whose summer research project involved
making clay that kills bacteria.
Other activities included a seminar series of industrial
scientists, a panel discussion of issues pertaining to science and
a mini-symposium at the end of the summer program. During the symposium,
participants gave formal presentations about their research and
participated in various social activities with faculty and students
from the Southern Miss Department of Polymer Science.
Christina Hasson of Oil City, Pa., spent most of her
summer developing new polyesters that could be used as materials
in the biomedical field. "Most people know polyesters for their
use in clothing," Hasson said, "but they're currently
used in a wide array of medical applications such as surgical sutures,
tissue scaffolds and drug delivery devices.
"These polyesters are biodegradable and compatible
with the body, which makes them ideal for use in medical applications
that require a temporary fix," she said.
Matt Jackson of Erie, Pa., studied polymers and their
effect on landfills and the ecosystem. His research group attempted
to make weaker, biodegradable polymers stronger by blending them
with clay. These clay-infused plastics could then be dissolved in
the ocean and act as "fish food" after serving their commercial
"As the problem of plastic filling up landfills
becomes even larger, the need for biodegradable material grows,"
Jackson said. "The most commonly used polymers are produced
in the billions of pounds each year. These polymers will never degrade,
and pose a large threat to the ecosystem and our environment."
Students participating in the program were as follows:
Matt Jackson, Erie, Pa.; Joseph Huegel, Erie, Pa.; Quint Hunt, Hattiesburg,
Miss.; Mason Myers, Oil City, Pa.; Christina Hasson, Oil City, Pa.;
Jon Badger, Tomahawk, Wis.; Trevor Thorwart, St. Mary, Pa.; Naomi
Lee, Littlefalls, N.Y.
More than 65 students from across North America applied
for the REU program at Southern Miss this year. The average GPA
for the students attending the program this summer was 3.47. The
participating students have diverse backgrounds of undergraduate
majors, varying from computer science to plastics engineering. Students
were selected based on academic performance, education/career interests,
diversity of background.