Scientists do complicated things using instruments with hard-to-pronounce names: laser spectroscopy; small molecule x-ray crystallography; advanced nuclear magnetic resonance. Most of us have no idea what those words mean, but Paul Morgan does.
Morgan, a senior composite science and chemistry major from Belize, recently flew to Texas with Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Bill Doria to attend the Sixth Annual Advanced Instrumentation Workshop at Baylor University.
"The idea behind the entire program is to train seniors, to transition them into graduate programs," Morgan said. "It is an opportunity to gain knowledge and access to state-of-the-art equipment used to do cutting edge research in the workplace. This is an advanced study, and it is a great opportunity to anyone who gets to participate."
"The trip was very exciting," he said. "We got to Baylor about noon on Friday, and at two o’clock we went to the grad school for our first session. My first session was hands-on training with a confocal microscope. The confocal microscope allows you to see cells from a 3-dimensional perspective. Here at Ozarks our microscopes give us more of a 2-D perspective, so I enjoyed the opportunity to work with one."
Ozarks senior Paul Morgan had the opportunity to learn some advanced analytical techniques at the Sixth Annual Advanced Instrumentation Workshop held at Baylor University.
The confocal microscope is extremely popular in the scientific and industrial communities, and typical applications are in life sciences, semiconductor inspection and materials science.
Morgan’s second session was the following morning. "This time I learned how to use a Liquid Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer," he said. LC-MS is a powerful analytical tool that allows the chemist to separate compounds in a complex mixture, then identify the separated compounds. "The idea behind this hands-on project was that we had to identify several random unidentified proteins," Morgan explained. "We did a mass spectrometer reading and it gave us a nice fancy beautiful graph. We examined the peaks on the graph, and were able to determine what kind of proteins we were dealing with. It worked very well."
In his third session, Morgan had the opportunity to learn a technique called "delayed extraction," used in determining an ion’s mass-to-charge ratio. "I learned to use a laser-based time-of-flight mass spectrometer," Morgan said. "Basically I got to use a very cool laser, between four and five feet in length, six megawatts. To give you an idea of how powerful six megawatts is, it can burn through a quarter coin. It was a powerful laser. We didn’t want to get our eyes too close to that, I can tell you."
Morgan said that his professor encouraged him to experience the power of the laser by quickly passing his hand through the beam quickly. "I could feel the vibration like someone punching my hand," he said. "So this laser was very powerful."
Morgan is excited about using the knowledge he learned at Baylor both here at Ozarks and on down the road. "I’m a senior graduating in May, but I have two projects I’m working on here at present," he said.
His first project will examine the effects of radioactivity on leeches. "I will be exposing leeches to radioactivity and then doing analysis of the blood to see what happens. My hope is to find how the radiation interacts with DNA," he said.
His second project potentially has even broader implications. "The second project is studying earthworms," he said. "The interesting thing a lot of people don’t know about earthworms is that if you cut one in half, the half with the head will grow a new body. They regenerate. I’m very interested in proteins, so what I want to do is study the proteins that may be involved in the regeneration."
Could this have implications relating to larger, more complex animals? Like people?
"That’s the question," Morgan says. "When I go to grad school, that’s the kind of research I want to investigate. At this point I probably don’t have all the skills and resources to look at higher level organisms, but that’s something I’m interested in. Starting with earthworms might lead me into something later on as I start grad school. Hopefully my funding will come through from the Academic Enrichment Fund. I plan to get the results of my projects published within the next semester."
After graduating from Ozarks, Morgan plans to return to Belize to teach at the university there. He hopes to later go on to graduate school. "I would like to study in England," he says. "The University of Manchester looks very good to me right now."
Does Morgan feel his training at Ozarks has prepared him for trips like the one he took to Baylor, and for his future projects? Absolutely yes," he says. "Working with all the chemistry and physics professors here? I was more than prepared. Actually I got to work with 40 chemistry students at Baylor, and I realized that the level of education here on this campus over in that science building is bar none. It is a high standard we set here. I was able to cope with all the information that I encountered, and it made me feel we here at Ozarks are not afraid of go out there and be counted. The very name Ozarks represents a whole lot."’
Morgan said that he is grateful for the opportunity to spend an extra year here to focus his interests. "I have had a unique experience at Ozarks," he said. "When I transferred I came with quite a few hours in chemistry. This 5th year has given me the opportunity to do a lot of upper level work in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. And those are my three main areas. I would say that having had that beautiful experience of seeing how all the different science disciplines come together has made a huge difference for me. From Dr. Smith I see where calculus comes into play. Then there’s the chemistry with Dr. Doria and Dr. McFarland. And of course the physics, the actual interaction behind everything else, with Dr. Itza. So having those upper levels this year puts everything together like a sweet puzzle for me."