news-category: Academics

Gardner-Webb’s Department of Natural Sciences Receives Funds for Undergraduate Researchers

a collage featuring a girl looking into a microscope and another girl explaining her science poster
In the photo on the left, Kyndal Jackson, studies a specimen in a science lab. At right, Tuyet "Snow" Nguyen talks to Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Robert Prickett about her research.

North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities Presents Two of 11 Grants to GWU Students

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) awarded two of 11 Undergraduate Research Program Grants to students in the Gardner-Webb Department of Natural Sciences. Tuyet “Snow” Anh Nguyen, a chemistry major, and Kyndal Elaina Jackson, a biology major, received over $500 each to complete their research in the 2024 Fall Semester.

Snow will be mentored by Professor of Chemistry Dr. Stefka Eddins, and Jackson’s mentors are Professor of Chemistry Dr. Ben Brooks and Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Meredith Rowe. This is the second year that Brooks and Rowe have worked with a student who received an NCICU grant. 

“We are quite proud of our student researchers receiving such impressive recognition, and I am grateful for the faculty who so carefully mentor them,” praised Gardner-Webb President Dr. William M. Downs. “This speaks volumes about the high quality of undergraduate research opportunities at GWU.”

NCICU’s Undergraduate Research Program provides funding for undergraduate research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Interested students submit a research proposal that includes a description of the project, its budget, and a statement from a faculty advisor. Those selected for the program receive financial support and academic advising in their field. Students also have the opportunity to participate in the annual State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium, which is sponsored through a collaborative partnership between NCICU and the University of North Carolina.

“Gardner-Webb students winning two of these grants is a notable achievement,” asserted Professor of Paleontology and Chair of the Department of Natural Sciences Dr. David Campbell. “It reflects the hard work of our students and faculty. Also, this helps to develop opportunities for other students by increasing the visibility of research and by supporting the development of methods and generation of data that can be used by other projects.”  

Jackson’s project is titled, “In Vitro Study of the Antimicrobial Advantages of Caraway Seed Oil on Skin.”

Kyndal Elaina Jackson

In her grant application, Jackson explained that essential oils have been investigated for their potential ability to combat pathogenic human skin microbiota as well as overcome antibiotic resistant strains. With expanded research, Jackson noted that healthcare professionals can access a broader range of evidence-based information about essential oils and develop guidelines and recommendations for their safe and effective use in various medical conditions.

She said one example of these essential oils is caraway seed oil that contains a chemical compound known as (S)-carvone, and it is known to display pharmacological potential including impressive health-promoting effects, specifically, antimicrobial advantages.

Jackson, of Gaffney, S.C., will use the grant to fund experiments to determine the effects of caraway seed oil and compare them to essential oils that a Gardner-Webb group has tested previously. Escherichia coli will also be used for a positive control. Her faculty mentors will guide her in planning the timeline of experiments, assist with data interpretation and provide laboratory supervision.

Tuyet “Snow” Anh Nguyen

Nguyen’s project is titled, “Isolation, Purification and Characterization of Shikimic Acid from Star Anise.” In her grant application, she shared her personal reason for conducting the study. “I am interested in this project because growing up in Vietnam, I observed my mother, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, as she prepared her clients’ prescriptions using various ingredients, including star anise,” said Nguyen, who is from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. “Asian culture favors star anise in its traditional medicine because it has antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects (Xu et al., 2017).  Unfortunately, over the years I have observed a gradual shift in my culture away from traditional medicine. These experiences have kindled a passion to work to incorporate natural ingredients into our food consumption, not only as a practice to enhance the culinary experience but also as a commitment to promote safer and healthier food products.”

She plans to use the funds to isolate star anise oil using Soxhlet extraction for maximum oil yield. The oil will be analyzed and if time permits, shikimic acid will be isolated from the oil. The isolate will be purified using celite, ion exchange resin, and activated charcoal. The acid will be confirmed by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), with commercially available pure shikimic acid used as a standard. If necessary, the isolate will be recrystallized for greater purity. Nguyen said her experience will teach her the process of research outside the classroom and help her become a competitive scholar as she pursues graduate school.     

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at Gardner-Webb.edu.

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