Dr. Greg Grant, Grote Professor of Chemistry, with Lensey Hill and Greg Helton

Colette Huntley and Dr. Henry Spratt, Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences

Students Showcase Biology and Chemistry Research

Under the supervision of Dr. Henry Spratt, microbiologist at UTC, Colette Huntley spent last summer fighting her way though a forest of Ligustrum sinense , better known to locals as the dreaded Chinese privet that has invaded the property of many Tennessee Valley homeowners.

"Our ultimate purpose for studying this plant in the controlled environment of the Tennessee River Gorge (TRG) is to follow a trend to find biological instead of chemical ways to control the damage of an invasive alien plant," Huntley said.

Forrest soils, microbial communities and nutrient pools in the TRG were all under scrutiny, according to H untley. Data collected suggests that Chinese privet has an impact on all three, meaning further implications for the survival of native species, both plants and microbes.

"We observed that the moisture levels for native plants located near the Chinese privet was significantly deficient. The shallow roots of the privet collect moisture and other nutrients, to the detriment of surrounding native plants," Huntley said.

In April, 2003, Huntley will present this research at a meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists in Washington, D.C. Merck/The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the UC Foundation Grote Chemistry Fund provided funding for the Summer Undergraduate Research Program. Additional funding was provided for thirteen UTC undergraduates and 8 faculty members from the UTC Chemistry Department, who presented their research recently at the SouthEast Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society (SERMACS) in Charleston, South Carolina.

"Students are mentored by a faculty advisor for ten weeks over the summer. Many of these research programs lead to getting the results published in professional journals," Dr. Greg Grant, UTC professor of inorganic chemistry said.

Lensey Hill was among the students travelling to South Carolina. She has been working under Grant’s supervision along with students Greg Helton, John Lee and Ken Patel to find new materials to bind with toxic heavy metals to remove them from waste waters. Hill is working with cadmium.

"Cadmium affects environmental and biological systems in m any ways , most of which are harmful. It not only causes harm to humans, but also to other ecosystems. Our research hopes to find a more cost efficient way to remove the metal from the environment," Hill said.

For humans, the physical effects of cadmium in wastewater are ominous; cadmium can cause serious illness or death. Damage can result in the lungs, kidneys, stomach and intestinal tract, Hill said.

Grant’s research focused on selectively binding mercury for the removal of this toxic heavy metal from contaminated waters.

Individual student assignments received additional funding from a variety of sources. For instance, The UTC Chemistry Department, Provost Student Research Award and the Dreyfuss Foundation provided funding for Dr. Grant and his students’ research.

Grant is proud of the efforts of all the students involved in this project. "The process and results are as good as in a doctoral program. The time frame is shorter, but the quality of the work is just as good," Grant said.

UTC researchers who attended the SERMACS meeting are chemistry faculty Dr. Doug Kutz, Dr. Greg Grant, Dr. Monte Helm, Dr. Kyle Knight, Dr. Robert Mebane, Dr. Gail Meyer, Dr. Manuel Santiago and Dr. Steven Symes. Chemistry students who attended the meeting include Lauren Beihoffer, Elizabeth Boaz, Elisha Fielding, Reese Harry, Greg Helton, Lensey Hill, James Hitchman, Vanessa Janeksela, John Lee, Katie Leonard, Missy Mathis, Ken Patel and Sarah Sewell.