Chemistry Faculty and Students Host Seven High School Students in DiscoveryTREK

For two weeks in June, Drs. Mohamed A. Abdalla, Willard Collier, and Mohamed O. Abdalla mentored seven students participating in the DiscoveryTREK program sponsored by the College of Agriculture, Environment, and Nutrition Science.  

SciTREK (Scientific Tuskegee Research Experience Kamp [TREK] and AgriTREK Agricultural Tuskegee Research Experience Kamp (TREK) were established in 2004 with an average of ~25 participants from around the country annually. SciTREK/AgriTREK are two-week residential programs that create an awareness of the educational and career opportunities that are available in STEM fields through hands-on research, leadership development, and personal enrichment activities. Students participating in SciTREK/AgriTREK, conduct intensive research under the guidance and mentoring of professors and graduate students who expose them to the latest developments in science and technology through research projects based on their interests. Research outcomes are presented in a poster symposium at the end of the program. Additionally, scholars take part in seminars and workshops on leadership development; the ultimate goal is to provide a holistic approach in training and mentoring these scholars as future leaders having positive impact on society.

Dr. M. A. Abdalla mentored La’ Daria Shorts assisted by Chemar Huntley.  Shorts worked on the extraction of nanocrystalline cellulose from wheat straw using acid hydrolysis method. There is a wide range of cellulose particle types that are being studied for myriad commercial applications. Plants are an attractive cellulose source primarily because they are abundant and there is a preexisting infrastructure in the textile industries for harvesting, retting/pulping, and product processing.  Nanocrystalline cellulose will be modified and used as filler for biodegradable polymer composite.
Dr. Collier mentored Harrison Caver, Ryan Coleman, Shaqueria Dial, and Will Kendrick assisted by chemistry undergraduate students Jashaun Bottoms, Parquita Jones, and Terita Tall.  The students worked on methods to screen plants for their shikimic acid content.  Harrison and Shaqueria worked on developing a paper chromatography method while Ryan and Will pursued a thin-layer chromatography method.  There is an urgent need to secure a domestic source of shikimic acid, the starting material for Tamiflu®.

Dr. M. O. Abdalla mentored Tiphani Beard and Khadijah Simmons assisted by graduate student Md Shakir Uddin Ahmed.  Beard and Simmons worked in a project titled “Future Therapy for Prostate Cancer” that involved the preparation of targeted nano-scale drug delivery system.  The students learned to prepare the drug delivery system itself and to test for interaction of the system with prostate cancer cells utilizing spectroscopic imaging. Both students were highly motivated as they expressed interest in future studies related to cancer biology.

The faculty and students of the Chemistry Department are always eager to share their enthusiasm for chemistry with the next generation of scientists.