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Area students conduct research at McNeese

Area students conduct research at McNeese

Zeadrick Williams Conducts Research Sawyer McMicken and Dr. Omar Christian Inspect Petri Plates Rasheed Leath Uses Rotary Evaporator
Photos from left to right:
1. Zeadrick Williams, a first year SEED scholar, prepares to do chromatography using the Biotage equipment in a McNeese chemistry lab for his research project on antioxidant metabolites, or natural products, from a southwest Louisiana collection of coastal plain St. John's wort that could play a vital role in the prevention of diseases.
2. Sawyer McMicken, left, and Dr. Omar Christian inspect a petri plate coated with plant extracts for anti-mosquitocidal activity. McMicken, a junior from the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches, is one of three area students, including two Barbe High School students, gaining experience in chemistry research this summer through the McNeese State University Chemistry Department.
3. Rasheed Leath, left, uses the rotary evaporator to remove organic solvent from his reaction mixture for his research project as part of the summer SEED program at McNeese State University under the supervision of Dr. Ron Darbeau.

(July 23, 2012) Most high school students spend their summer vacations anywhere but in a chemistry lab, but a group of area students have been conducting hands-on research this summer under the mentorship of professors in the McNeese State University Chemistry Department.

Two local high school students are recipients of an American Chemical Society 2012 Project SEED Fellowship. They are Rasheed Leath, a senior from Washington Marion High School, and Zeadrick Williams, a junior from LaGrange High School.

The Science Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged (SEED) program provides promising high school chemistry students with summer research opportunities, according to Dr. Omar Christian, assistant professor of chemistry, mentor and program coordinator.

The SEED project is funded jointly by the national ACS and the local Southwest Louisiana section of the ACS.

"An important feature of this program is the emphasis on career development and encouraging students to pursue higher education and careers in chemistry and the natural sciences," said Christian. Dr. Ron Darbeau, chemistry professor and head of the chemistry department, is also a mentor.

Leath is a returning SEED scholar working with Darbeau's group on a project focused on the generation of highly reactive positively charged carbon fragments called carbocations.  Darbeau's group has pioneered a new method of forming these carbocations called hyperdeamination.

Williams is working with Christian's group investigating antioxidant metabolites/natural products from a southwest Louisiana collection of coastal plain St. John's wort (Hypericum brachyphyllum). These antioxidant metabolites are thought to play a vital role in the prevention of diseases like cancer and atherosclerosis, which are linked to oxidative damage.

"This is my second year in the SEED program and I am grateful to my chemistry teacher, Talitha Pitrie, who encouraged me to apply for the program," said Leath, who was at the top of his class in chemistry. He was "hooked" after that first summer.

Leath, who is one of 13 siblings, plans to attend McNeese this fall and major in chemical engineering. "I enjoy both math and chemistry, so this major will incorporate both of those," he said. "Also, thanks to this program, I have two years of hands-on lab experience when I start classes this fall."
Williams is enjoying his summer in the lab. "I like science, especially chemistry, and this has been a great experience." Williams, an A student in chemistry, was recommended by his chemistry teacher, Darrell McDaniel, for the summer program.

"I enjoy performing research tasks using the hi-tech instruments here in the chemistry labs at McNeese," said Williams. "This is both a great opportunity and a learning experience for me."

Christian said these students gain valuable experience with cutting-edge techniques, write a comprehensive report and present their research findings at the end of July.

The chemistry department is also providing research opportunities for three other area students - two from Barbe High School and one from the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches. They are Diego Padilla-Chargoy, a junior, and Keenan Gayle, a sophomore, both from Barbe, and Sawyer McMicken, a junior from LSMSA.

Gayle likes his math and science classes in school and is interested in engineering after high school. "Dr. Christian recruited me for this summer research opportunity and this will give me some research and lab experience for my chemistry and biology classes in high school."

The principal aim of both summer programs, according to Christian, is the introduction of motivated high school scholars to current chemical research under the mentorship of college faculty.