Prof. Watkins and former UM graduate student (now professor at Rhodes College) Shanna Stoddard interviewed on Channel 13 News.
OXFORD, Miss. – With eyes on increasing job opportunities and boosting the economy, business leaders and brothers Jim and Thomas Duff, of Hattiesburg, have committed $26 million to the construction of a state-of-the-art science, technology, engineering and mathematics facility at the University of Mississippi.
Chancellor Glenn F. Boyce announced today (Feb. 5) the top gift for the 202,000-square-foot building, which will be the largest single construction project in Oxford campus history, with a $160 million total project budget. The Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation is projected to be one of the nation’s leading student-centered learning environments for STEM education.
“There is a critical need to increase the number of graduates in STEM fields to support growth and innovation in our state, region and nation, and strengthen the pipeline for training engineers, tech entrepreneurs, and science and math teachers,” Boyce said. “We are deeply grateful to the Duff brothers for this significant investment in our vision to produce graduates who fulfill critical needs, improve STEM teaching in our education systems and contribute as scientifically aware citizens in our society.
“Jim and Thomas are dedicated to enriching educational opportunities in Mississippi, and we guarantee that their investment will have a significant return as its far-reaching impact is felt. In the coming years, STEM job creation will outpace non-STEM jobs, and STEM professionals earn higher salaries, yielding more attractive opportunities for our students in Mississippi and beyond.”
Thomas Duff, a member of the state Institutions of Higher Learning board – the governing body responsible for policy and financial oversight of the state’s eight public universities – shared the motivation behind their gift.
“Jim and I recognize the importance of educating Mississippi students in STEM fields,” he said. “It is absolutely crucial to our state’s future to have an educated STEM workforce. In addition, we want to see talented high school graduates in our state have exceptional opportunities to prepare for some of the most rewarding careers possible. It’s what they deserve, and it’s what Mississippi needs.”
The Duff brothers contributed $1 million previously to support UM’s Flagship Constellations in memory of their father, the late Ernest Duff, who was the first in his family to pursue higher education. He earned an undergraduate and law degree from Ole Miss, where he served as the Associated Student Body president, was inducted into the student Hall of Fame, served on the Mississippi Law Journal staff and graduated first in his law school class.
In addition, Jim Duff’s daughters, Margaret and Caroline, are law and liberal arts students, respectively, at Ole Miss.
Jim Duff said his family values educational opportunities and wants to expand them in Mississippi.
“Tommy and I are impressed that part of the STEM facility’s mission will involve outreach to our state’s kindergarten-through-high school teachers,” Duff said. “We need our teachers introducing the idea of STEM fields to their students, inspiring them to major in STEM fields in college.
“This outreach will also include STEM activities for the community, improving the overall science literacy of our state and region.”
According to the National Math and Science Initiative, 60 percent of jobs created in the 21st century will require skills possessed by only 20 percent of the current workforce. The United States may be short as many as 1 million skilled workers over the next decade. The nation ranks 17th worldwide for the number of science degrees awarded annually.
The additional space and technological advances offered by the Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation are critical to serving the student enrollment.
The university’s ability to expand STEM courses, especially those that require laboratory work and other research, is stymied by a lack of classroom and laboratory space – and particularly by a lack of nontraditional teaching spaces that facilitate active learning. Some active learning classrooms have been set up ahead of the building and professors have seen positive responses from students.
With construction slated to begin in 2020, the Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation will be located in the Science District, with one side facing the Grove and another facing Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and The Pavilion at Ole Miss. Thousands of people will pass this new campus landmark daily.
It will house lecture halls as well as chemistry, biology, physics, engineering and computer science labs. Lower student-instructor ratios will be in place, and various disciplines will be spread throughout the building to promote interdisciplinary teaching and learning.
Among other building highlights, students will enjoy technology-enabled active learning, or TEAL, labs and a visualization lab, similar to a small IMAX theater for 3D visualization. Engineering students will have access to dedicated lab spaces, including fabrication and testing equipment, for their senior design projects.
Several common areas will give students space to study both individually and in small groups, and a STEM tutoring center will provide additional support.
Such innovations appealed to the Duff brothers, who are widely known for their entrepreneurial spirit and for responding to opportunities with solutions, Thomas Duff said.
What began as a small-town enterprise quickly grew under the leadership of the Duff brothers, who saw unique opportunities for the development of solution-providing companies. That forward-thinking force became Duff Capital Investors, a privately-owned company headquartered in Columbia.
DCI comprises 20 companies, providing more than 13,000 employment opportunities across the nation and exceeding $3 billion in total revenues. The company includes Southern Tire Mart, KLLM Transport Services, Frozen Food Express, TL Wallace Construction, DeepWell Energy Services, Pine Belt Motors and many other companies that were founded as solution providers.
UM will seek other private, state and federal funding, use internally generated cash and borrow funds to cover the costs of the construction. Other private support for the building includes a $25 million gift from the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation in Jackson, a longtime donor to Ole Miss.
For more information on providing support for the STEM facility, contact Charlotte Parks, vice chancellor of development, at email@example.com or 662-915-3120; or visit http://give.olemiss.edu. Other naming opportunities are available inside the STEM building.
February 5, 2020 by
FEBRUARY 3, 2020 BY ABIGAIL MEISEL
“Science should be explained like campfire stories,” said Ryan Fortenberry, assistant professor of astrochemistry, a subspecialty that explores chemistry in outer space. “Any science concept can be talked about in everyday language.”
Fortenberry wants to reduce jargon in scientific prose, as evidenced in the February 2020 issue of Scientific American, “The First Molecule in the Universe.”
In it, he traces the discovery of a new molecule found in space, helium hydride (HeH+), which scientists believe is the first compound ever formed in the Universe. The bonding of helium and hydrogen atoms was once thought impossible by chemists, but, in space, radically different temperatures and pressures create unpredictable reactions. The discovery of HeH+ calls into question accepted truths about chemistry overall.
Explaining the discovery, Fortenberry wrote: “By studying chemistry in environments so very alien compared with Earth . . . we can find molecules that challenge our usual notions of how atoms interact and bring us to a deeper chemical understanding. Ultimately we hope to learn how chemistry led to the ingredients that ended up in the planets in our solar system and eventually enabled life.”
Fortenberry entered the nascent field of astrochemistry through a back door. He’d known from a young age that he wanted to write about science, and to do that knowledgeably he felt he needed a graduate degree, so he entered the Ph.D. program in chemistry at Virginia Tech.
“The program was way outside my comfort zone, and I wanted to quit,” Fortenberry said. “Then I came across a research fellowship offered through the Virginia Space Grant Consortium that introduced me to astrochemistry. Discovering this specialty changed my life and gave me a reason for sticking out graduate school.”
As a researcher, Fortenberry explores the interaction of light with molecules in space. He uses supercomputers to predict ultraviolet, visible, infrared, and microwave fingerprints of various chemical compounds.
To crunch the numbers for his research, Fortenberry counts on the high-end computers in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and at the Mississippi Center for Supercomputing Research. The center provides sophisticated technical resources to Mississippi’s public colleges and universities statewide.
He has published his findings in more than 100 peer-reviewed journals and stands as comfortably in the esoteric realm of Journal of Chemical Physics as he does in Scientific American, ground zero for unpacking new concepts in science and technology to laypeople.
“Dr. Fortenberry is not only an exceptional scientist but also a gifted communicator who can readily explain complex scientific concepts in ways that both students and the general public find easy to understand,” said Greg Tschumper, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
Fortenberry, who has published a book about science writing—Complete Science Communication: A Guide to Connecting with Students, Scientists, and Journalists (Royal Society of Chemistry, 2019)—would like to teach a journalism class to UM students.
“We are entering an era when understanding complex topics, like the science behind climate change, will be important for everyone to grasp,” he said. “The only way to do that is through clear communication.”
Congratulations Ivy Li, William Meador, Genevieve Verville, and Michael Valencia for receiving awards at SURC 2020 on January 25th, 2020 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Southeastern Undergraduate Research Conference is a unique opportunity for students in the SouthEastern region to present their undergraduate research work to other students and faculty members. Both oral and poster presentations are given. Students also network with graduate school recruiters and meet other students and faculty members engaged in chemistry research. Prizes are given for the best posters and oral presentations. The conference allows students to present their work in a friendly environment and obtain feedback and ideas related to their work.
Seventeen freshmen in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi have been awarded a total of $130,750 from four of the university’s most distinguished scholarship programs.
Five of the freshmen earned McDonnell Barksdale Scholarships, six were recipients of Doris Raymond Honors Scholarships, three were awarded Harold Parker Memorial Scholarships and three were honored with Annexstad Family Foundation Leaders for Tomorrow Scholarships.
“Each year, a new group of high-performing students distinguish themselves to join the ranks of our SMBHC scholarship holders,” said Douglass Sullivan-González, Honors College dean.
“We are extremely proud of this year’s freshman group who already understand the demands of what it means to be ‘citizen’ and ‘scholar’ in a challenging environment. We anticipate four great years of their involvement in our university community.”
Those students receiving McDonnell Barksdale Scholarships are:
Bryant is a graduate of the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, where she was a Golden Triangle Area Scholar, MSMS Ambassador, 4-H Ambassador and Northeast Mississippi Student Leadership Conference Scholar. She is majoring in biochemistry.
Kiparizoska is a graduate of West Jones Junior-Senior High School. She won the AP Biology Award, first place in advertising design at the State Beta Convention, Spanish III Award and Algebra III Certificate. She is majoring in biochemistry.
Those receiving Harold Parker Memorial Scholarships are:
French graduated from Malden Hills High School, where she was on the Principal’s Honor Roll, Who’s Who and Academic All-State in volleyball. French is majoring in chemistry.
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2016 physical chemistry PhD graduate John Kelly was highlighted for his postdoctoral work in the September 9, 2019 issue of C&E News. Dr. Kelly commented on his successful European postdoctoral experience. The article points out that US-based chemists can consider going abroad for their postdocs. John Kelly, a chemist at SRI International, moved from the US to Leipzig University for his postdoc, which he finished in 2018. He says he decided to make the move because it would be a completely different experience from studying anywhere in the US.
“It was the best experience I could ask for,” Kelly says. While he enjoyed his research project, he says the most rewarding part was simply living abroad. Of course, he says, he faced hurdles he wouldn’t have if he had stayed in the US, like changing banks and sorting out visas and work permits. But those shouldn’t deter anyone interested in doing a postdoc abroad, he says.
“You could spend a year in the US and learn less than you would in a week in another country,” Kelly says. Working abroad gives you diversity in approaching a way to solve a problem, he adds. “If everybody in the room speaks the same and writes the same and approaches the problem the same, then you’re only going to have one solution.”
Kennedy Dickson (SMBHC 19) has been named a 2019 National Collegiate Honors Council Portz Scholar. She is one of three recipients nationwide and will present her honors thesis, “Cannabinoid Conundrum: A Study of Anti-Epileptic Efficacy and Drug Policy,” at the NCHC conference in New Orleans this coming November as well as collect her certificate and award of $350.
This summer, California-native Kennedy is working as a Forensic Science Intern for the Orange Crime Laboratory in Southern California. She has begun the law school admissions process and hopes to study intellectual property, patent law, and bioethics. This fall, she will continue researching cannabinoids with Professor Kristie Willett, who also advised her honors thesis. Kennedy is grateful for Professor Willett along with Ms. Cammi Thornton and Professors Zach Pandelides, Erin Holmes, and Nicole Ashpole.
Four University of Mississippi students and two recent graduates have been selected to participate in the undergraduate portion of the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program.
The students are:
Katelyn Barnes, daughter of Donna Barnes and the late Scotty Barnes, of Tishomingo, a junior majoring in biological sciences
Riley Brown, daughter of Oatis Wilfred Brown III and Kimberly Rusty Brown, of Gautier, a senior majoring in biochemistry
Jamie Johnson, daughter of Janee Conner and Mark Johnson, of Falkner, a junior majoring in biological sciences
Nader Pahlevan, son of Amir and Amalia Pahlevan, of Biloxi, a senior majoring in computer science
Jamie Riggs, daughter of Alton and Jackie Haley, of Goodman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with a minor in chemistry
Cole Stephens, son of Craig and Shaye Stephens, of Mantachie, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry
Created in 2007, MRPSP identifies college sophomores and juniors who demonstrate the necessary commitment and academic achievement to become competent, well-trained rural primary care physicians in the state. The program offers undergraduate academic enrichment and a clinical experience in a rural setting.
Upon completion of all medical school admissions requirements, participating students can be admitted to the UM School of Medicine or William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
During medical school at either institution, each MRPSP scholar is under consideration for $30,000 per year, based on available funding. Consistent legislative support of MRPSP translates to 61 medical students sharing $1.83 million to support their education this fall.
Additional benefits include personalized mentoring from practicing rural physicians and academic support.
Upon completion of medical training, MRPSP scholars must enter a residency program in one of five primary care specialties: family medicine, general internal medicine, medicine-pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology or pediatrics. The MRPSP scholar must provide four years of service in a clinic-based practice in an approved Mississippi community of 15,000 or fewer population located more than 20 miles from a medically served area.
The MRPSP provides a means for rural Mississippi students to earn a seat in medical school, receive MCAT preparation, earn a $120,000 medical school scholarship in return for four years of service and learn the art of healing from practicing rural physicians.
The Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program and the Mississippi Rural Dentists Scholarship Program are state-funded efforts to increase the number of dentists and physicians serving the health care needs of Mississippians in rural areas.
Housed at the UM Medical Center in Jackson and collaborating with its medical and dental schools and the College of Osteopathic Medicine at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, the programs use various outreach, mentoring and training methods to identify, support, educate and deploy new generations of health care workers for Mississippi’s underserved populations. To learn more about either program, click here.
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The award is given by the prestigious Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, which “recognizes and encourages superior scholarship without restriction as to area of study and to promotes the unity and democracy of education,” according to its website. Currently, the society awards 50 Fellowships of $8,500 each, six at $20,000 each, and two at $35,000 each to members entering the first year of graduate or professional study.
Smith is the recipient of one of the 50, $8,500 awards. Although she said she plans to defer the scholarship for a year to pursue a gap year in South America, she intends to apply the scholarship to Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
“I aspire to serve Latinx populations in the urban United States and help diminish inequities in healthcare access,” she said.
Each university in the U.S. with a Phi Kappa Phi chapter has the opportunity to submit one student to be considered at the national level for a fellowship. Smith was required to submit a writing sample, obtain letters of recommendation, and write a personal essay.
“Despite being in the midst of a busy academic and extracurricular week, I took the time to apply and I was so thrilled when I found out I was selected as the University’s candidate,” she said. “There are clearly so many amazing students at our school, so I was greatly honored to be chosen. Further, to be chosen out of the national candidates as one of the students receiving a fellowship, I was incredibly proud and so glad to represent the University of Mississippi.”
Phi Kappa Phi Ole Miss board member Deborah Wenger said this is the fifth year the University has produced a national winner.
“Elaine’s award is an incredible honor for her and for Ole Miss. Winners are judged, not only on their academic achievement but also on their service and leadership,” she said. “I think that’s why Ole Miss has had national winners for the past five years – our university offers many opportunities for our students to learn important life skills beyond the classroom.”
Ole Miss’ 2018 PKP Fellowship Award winner was Kathryn Prendergast.
Smith’s academic achievements are as follows:
4.0 cumulative GPA – Summa Cum Laude, Chancellor’s Honor Roll, Ventress Scholar
Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Class Marshal
Outstanding Chemistry Graduate
2017-2018 Biochemistry Student of the Year
Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society
Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society
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OXFORD, Miss. – In the summer of 2016, Transportation Security Administration screeners at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada confiscated an oddity: a 3D-printed handgun in a man’s carry-on baggage.
The plastic gun was inoperable but accompanied by five .22-caliber bullets. The passenger said he had forgotten about the gun and willingly left it at the airport and boarded his flight without being arrested.
The TSA later said the plastic gun was believed to be the first of its kind seized at a U.S. airport.
Since the world’s first functional 3D-printed firearm was designed in 2013, such guns have increasingly been in the news. Proponents of the firearms – 3D-printed with polymers from digital files – maintain that sharing blueprints and printing the guns are protected activities under the First and Second Amendments. Opponents argue the guns are concerning because they are undetectable and also untraceable since they have no serial numbers.
Tackling some of those forensic unknowns are a University of Mississippi chemistry professor and a graduate student. Their research is developing analytical methods to explore how the firearms might be traced using chemical fingerprints rather than relying on physical evidence, with the goal of offering tools for law enforcement to track the guns as they become more widespread.
“We can positively identify the type of polymer used in the construction of the gun from flecks or smears of plastic on bullets, cartridge cases and in gunshot residue collected on clothing,” said James Cizdziel, an associate professor in the UM Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Cizdziel, who joined the Ole Miss faculty in 2008, and Oscar “Beau” Black, who recently earned his doctorate in chemistry, have spent two years researching 3D-printed firearms through a grant from the National Institute of Justice, part of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The three-year, $150,000 grant, “Physical and Chemical Trace Evidence from 3D-Printed Firearms,” has resulted in a 2017 peer-reviewed paper in Forensic Chemistry, a growing reference library of mass spectra from 3D-printed firearms for use by law enforcement and a book, “Forensic Analysis of Gunshot Residue, 3D-Printed Firearms, and Gunshot Injuries: Current Research and Future Perspectives.”
The research involved Cizdziel and Black being the first to use Direct Analysis in Real Time, or DART, Mass Spectrometry to identify polymers and organic gunshot residue in evidence from 3D-printed guns. The idea is forensic experts could trace the polymer that might show up in chemical evidence from the discharge of a 3D-printed firearm back to the type of plastic used in the gun.
“Our growing database provides a second means of identification or grouping of samples, alleviating the need for subjective interpretation of the mass spectral peaks,” said Cizdziel, a Buffalo native. “We also published fingerprinting protocols on surfaces of 3D-printed guns.
“Overall, we demonstrated that our methods are particularly useful for investigating crimes involving 3D-printed guns.”
The pair’s research arises from an undergraduate chemistry class Cizdziel taught in 2014, Introduction to Instrumental Analysis. Before earning his bachelor’s degree in forensic chemistry in 2015, Black, who also was an undergraduate researcher in Cizdziel’s laboratory, took the class, where talk soon turned to 3D-printed firearms.
“We discussed how developing new reliable analytical methods for forensic practitioners dealing with trace evidence from 3D-printed guns would make a good doctoral research project,” Cizdziel said. “Apparently this sparked a fire in (Black), and he not only joined my research group as a graduate student but was awarded a research fellowship from the Department of Justice to do that very project.”
Black, from Weatherford, Texas, began the project in 2016, before funding was secured in 2017, and quickly realized he was in unexplored territory.
“There was such a dearth of information out there,” Black said. “There was only one, I think, report of an actual test fire (of a 3D-printed firearm) from a forensic agency.”
The pair began creating functional 3D-printed firearms – either .22-caliber or .38-caliber handguns – that used certain metal parts to comply with a federal ban on weapons that aren’t picked up by metal detectors. They test-fired them under controlled and safe conditions at the Mississippi Crime Laboratory in Pearl and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Hoover, Alabama.
“When you discharge them, they do exactly what they are designed to do,” Black said. “You can shoot them multiple times. There was one we shot dozens of times with no visible wear and tear on it.”
The discharges generated samples to analyze. The duo also evaluated the differences in evidence between 3D-printed guns and conventional guns, and used the analytical technique mass spectrometry to identify and characterize the various polymer types in 3D-printed gun evidence.
This work was the beginning of creating a reference library of various polymer samples to provide the basis of categorizing an unknown sample. The reference library holds about 50 polymer samples.
Cizdziel and Black were assisted in their research by undergraduate students and Murrell Godfrey, director of the UM forensic chemistry program and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
Black graduated Saturday (May 11), but the pair’s research is ongoing, including expanding and improving the 3D-print polymer reference library.
“The ultimate goal would have the reference library in a format that’s similar to the other reference libraries that are out there for fingerprints, etc.,” Black said. “Every different arena has a reference library that goes along with that discipline.”
Beyond work on the reference library, the twosome is examining DNA methods on 3D-printed firearms and studying the longevity of polymer evidence under weathering conditions. Cizdziel and Black also are working on a paper that presents all their scientific discoveries when it comes to 3D-printed firearms.
Not knowing what they might find in their investigations has led to some exciting findings and groundbreaking work, Cizdziel said.
“That’s when things get interesting,” he said. “When you don’t quite know what to expect.”
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