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Released November 08, 2004

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH PROGRAM AT SOUTHERN MISS
ATTRACTS NATIONAL POLYMER SCIENCE STUDENTS

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 research experience.

"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 purpose.

"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.

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November 24, 2004 1:56 PM