Henderson, OBU to share new research device

Students studying science at Henderson State University will soon have a new, state-of-the-art instrument for conducting research.

Dr. Vincent Dunlap, associate professor of chemistry at Henderson, and Dr. Sara Hubbard at Ouachita Baptist University were recently awarded a $50,000 grant to purchase a spectrofluorometer that will be housed at OBU. It is expected to arrive in March.

“The instrument will be built to perform experiments analyzing either fluorescence or phosphorescence,” he said. “Substances that glow in the dark operate through one of these two processes and it happens on a molecular level. This instrument enables us to find a fluorescent or phosphorescent signal and measure it in a sample.”

Dunlap said the device, which will be connected to a computer, is about the size of a laser printer.

While the spectrofluorometer is not uncommon, Dunlap said it is usually found in large research labs that tend to specialize in fluorescence and phosphorescence.

“Our grant was specifically for smaller institutions, and preference was given for inter-institutional collaboration,” he said. “Dr. Hubbard and I feel that an opportunity like this allows us to showcase the unique and profitable arrangement we have in Arkadelphia with two higher education institutions in close proximity.”

The money comes from an Arkansas IDeA Network of Biolmedical Research Excellence (INBRE) instrumentation grant, which is funded by a National Institutes of Health grant program for biomedical research and channeled through the major research institutions in Arkansas, according to Dunlap.

“Since this grant if for biomedical purposes, we plan to use it primarily for biological and biochemical reasons,” Dunlap said. “In my research, I synthesize fluorescent molecules that can be incorporated into DNA and RNA. These fluorescent structures allow us to monitor the activities of DNA and RNA within a cell to determine who it interacts with and what it does under certain conditions.”

Dunlap said it will also be used to analyze for cancer-causing substances in cigarettes and cooked meat. Faculty in the biology department are interested in using the fluorimeter to detect bacteria in soil samples, and study the bacterial biodiversity at the university’s Simonson Biology Field Station.

The chemistry departments at both Henderson and Ouachita have agreed to house the instrument in OBU’s chemistry lab because it has more space free from external light. Dunlap said Hubbard has “more direct experience” with routine maintenance of this type of instrument.

“Both departments have agreed to split maintenance and upkeep costs,” Dunlap said. “We are developing an online sign-up system that allows access to the instrument for both faculty and students. Henderson students and faculty will have equal access even though it is physically located across the ravine.”