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An online publication for the alumni and friends of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences

Major engineering events coming up

Engineering students participating in the Concrete Canoe project There are two major engineering events coming up in April.

A Model Bridge Competition will be held April 5 at 4:30 p.m. in Hammons Student Center. Approximately 400 high school students have built balsa wood bridges that are about two feet long. Missouri State students and faculty will help to test the bridges for efficiency, or the weight the bridge will support divided by the weight of the bridge itself.

Mid-Continent American Society of Civil Engineers Conference will be held April 21-22 at the University of Arkansas. Missouri State students will participate in the Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe competitions.

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Get involved with NSMH

Pummill HallDid you know that Missouri State now has an individual chapter of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH) on campus? The next meeting for the organization is today (March 24) at 3 p.m. in Pummill Hall Room 307.

Looking for another way to get involved with Hospitality Leadership at Missouri State? Participate in Hospitality Week April 3-7 to do community service, meet industry leaders, and learn more about local organizations.

“The purpose of Hospitality Week is to reach out to students and local communities to increase the awareness of NSMH,” said Jokima Hiller, instructor of hospitality leadership. “The goal is to host hospitality-related activities every day throughout the week. Nationwide, chapters will be hosting events that fit into our daily themes for this year.”

Schedule of events:

  • Monday, April 3: Kick-Off/Industry Day
  • Tuesday, April 4: Pre-College Outreach Day
  • Wednesday, April 5: Diversity Day
  • Thursday, April 6: Organization Partnership Day
  • Friday, April 7: Community Service Day

For the most up-to-date information about the Missouri State chapter of NSMH and Hospitality Week, visit the chapter’s Facebook page or follow them on Twitter or Instagram.

The final meeting of the local chapter will be Mary 12 at 10:30 a.m. in Pummill Hall Room 307.

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The age-old question: Are there other Earths?

Exoplanets in space

Are there other planets out there like our own? If so, where are they?

It’s these questions that fuel the research of Dr. Peter Plavchan, assistant professor of astronomy at Missouri State University. Plavchan recently received funding from NASA to investigate the scientific feasibility of a space mission to search for exoplanets, or planets like ours orbiting nearby stars.

“The goal of the mission is to detect exoplanets that are the same mass as the Earth and that are orbiting at the same distance from their star as ours does,” said Plavchan, who will work with members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on this project. “We already know Earth-sized exoplanets are common in our universe, but the ones we have found tend to be too hot from orbiting too close to their stars, or orbit dimmer red stars that are different from our Sun.”

The project, known as EarthFinder, will use a space telescope to find these exoplanets.

“The space telescope will have a mirror about 3 to 5 feet in diameter. The light from that telescope will be fed into a spectrograph, which basically spreads the light out into its constituent colors, like a rainbow,” said Plavchan. “By spreading the light out into its colors, one of the things we’ll be able to take advantage of is the Doppler Effect to watch nearby stars wobble in response to the exoplanets orbiting them.”

The Doppler Effect

The Doppler Effect technique measures shifts in color to determine the speed of a star. If you’ve ever heard a siren on a car speeding by, you can hear the change in pitch of the sound waves as it passes. The same thing happens to light.

“When a star is moving toward you, the light is ever so slightly bluer, and when a star is moving away from you, that light is ever so slightly redder,” said Plavchan. “A spectrograph allows us to measure that shift in the color of star light. Thanks to special relativity, by measuring that shift in the color we actually get the speed of the star, toward or away from us. If the speed of the star changes, that tells us that something is gravitationally tugging on the star.”

Moving forward

The project will answer that age-old question: Are there other Earths? It will also tell us more about our own planet as well as others.

“This mission could potentially help us better understand our own solar system,” said Dr. Peter Gao, NASA postdoctoral program fellow and future 51 Pegasi b prize postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at Berkeley. “By studying the exoplanets of other systems, we could learn how ours were formed and how it compares to other planets.”

Plavchan’s team will develop the mission concept during the next 18 months. The team hopes to demonstrate that using the Doppler Effect via a space telescope will enable scientists to discover more Earth-like planets.

For more information, contact Plavchan at 417-836-5609.

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What do gum and anti-cancer drugs have in common?

Dr. Matthew SiebertPop a piece of gum in your mouth—what’s causing that cooling sensation? It’s a compound called cubebol, which is also found in products like aftershave.

The ring structure that forms cubebol is at the center of recent research by Dr. Matthew Siebert and his team.

“We know that there are several compounds containing this ring structure, including cubebol and isovelleral,” said Siebert, assistant professor of chemistry. “Isovelleral, however, has promise as a much more important compound. It has been found to exhibit cytotoxic effects—that may be enhanced by further modification—making this an attractive anti-cancer agent.”

Siebert recently had a paper on the subject of the plurality of pathways in gold published in Organometallics.

“In this work we used quantum chemical calculations to explore the viability of multiple proposed pathways to form naturally occurring ring structures via a gold-catalyzed reaction,” said Siebert. “Before our study, researchers had determined that there are two major events that must take place, but had no justification for which took place first, nor did they understand the details of these events—each event takes multiple chemical steps.”

Ultimately, Siebert’s team found what they believe to be the pathway for developing new compounds. The study provided insight that can be used to duplicate this reaction to form other compounds with this naturally occurring ring structure. This could lead to compounds, such as isovelleral, being used in new anti-cancer medications.

Looking forward

Though the broader purpose of the research is to contribute to the larger chemistry community, Siebert says there is a more specific purpose as well.

“For this particular study, we saw that we could provide answers about which proposed mechanism of action is more likely to take place,” said Siebert. “We were also able to provide directed examples of how one could go about optimizing this reaction in their own work.”

Siebert’s research provides insight into the atomic-level transformations that must take place to synthesize naturally-occurring ring structures in the laboratory.

Siebert hopes that another scientist will take this research and test it in a wet lab, ideally confirming the team’s results.

“We would also like to see our suggestions on optimization put to good use—perhaps by increasing the efficiency with which isovelleral, or other candidate pharmaceuticals, are produced.”

 

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American Chemical Society meeting coming up in April

Chemistry formulas on paperThe 2017 spring meeting of the American Chemical Society, or ACS, will be held April 2-6 in San Franciso.

The ACS bi-annual meeting is the biggest for the field of chemistry, with the springtime meeting being largest at nearly 12,000 participants. This makes a great platform to present research and make connections.

“It’s a great way to make connections that may lead to future jobs, and presentations are highly selective and competitive,” said Lukas Kriem, a graduate chemistry student who will be attending the meeting. “The meeting is a great way to meet people that research on similar topics and learn how their results fit into your own research.”

Kriem will also be presenting at Midwest Region Conference for the American Water Works Association March 28 in Tan-Tar-A, Missouri.

Kriem conducted his research with Dr. Richard Biagioni.

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Southwestern Association of Naturalists meeting coming up in April

A salamander on a leafThe 2017 meeting of the Southwestern Association of Naturalists, or SWAN, will be held April 13-16 in Lawton Oklahoma and will be hosted by Cameron University.

SWAN is primarily dedicated to the natural history of North America, and boasts strong member support from Mexico and several Latin American countries. The term “southwestern” is loosely applied, considering members attend from as far east as Georgia and as far north as Kansas and Missouri.

Previous meetings were held in San Diego (2015) and Mexico City (2016).

“The meeting is an opportunity for students and researchers to come together to discuss and present new research pertaining to the natural history of species and communities throughout the region,” said Dr. Day Ligon, associate professor of biology. “In addition to presenting their own research, students can benefit from opportunities to socialize and network with colleagues from other universities and conservation agencies.”

The annual meeting is usually held in a locale that offers a biologically interesting backdrop.

“This year, that backdrop is the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma, which are known for iconic wildlife such as elk and collared lizards,” said Ligon. “Furthermore, it is always held in mid to late April, a time of year when many plants and animals are becoming active.”

For the latest event information, visit SWAN’s Facebook page.

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‘The learning environment was contagious’

When Dr. Greg Garrison first came to Missouri State he planned on studying dairy science.Greg Garrison

“We were required to take a course on soils and crops which had a pre-requisite of chemistry,” said Garrison. “I took my first chemistry course, 110 with Dr. Ernst, and was hooked from that semester. I changed my major to chemistry and never looked back.”

The fact that MSU offered dairy science and was a short commute from home solidified Garrison’s decision to attend Missouri State.

In his upcoming seminar on Feb. 24, Garrison will discuss the oilfield industry, drilling and completing oil and gas wells.

“I want to give the students an introduction to the oilfield; it’s something most people in this part of the world have little exposure to,” said Garrison. “Myself, I didn’t know anything until my first job in 1994.”

Garrison owns Oilfield Testing and Consulting, a company that owns several oilfield-related businesses and operations. The company also provides independent laboratory testing for cement and drilling fluids.

“People have heard about working in the oilfield but when I was a student there was zero exposure to the industry at MSU. The oilfield is a very dynamic place to work with numerous opportunities for all disciplines,” said Garrison. “Personally I would have never imagined so many different jobs and companies are associated with the oil and gas industry. The industry is not portrayed in the brightest of lights because of accidents or industry practices that are not understood by the public.”

Garrison not only wants to share his knowledge of the oilfield industry, but also why his time at Missouri State was important.

“The learning environment was contagious; everyone wanted to see hard work and dedication pay off,” said Garrison. “Even though a person may not work in a specific discipline, a quality education always prepares you for change and new adventures.”

Garrison received a BS in comprehensive chemistry in 1988 from Missouri State and a PhD in organic chemistry from Oklahoma State in 1992.

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