March 17, 2021
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John Samuel Cason Wins Undergraduate Award
Photo: John Samuel Cason ’23, left, with Dr. Maureen Kendrick Murphy and Professor Eric A. Kidwell.
Montgomery, Ala.—Huntingdon College sophomore John Samuel Cason of Boaz, Alabama, was named the recipient of the 2021 Annual Research Frontiers Symposium Outstanding Student Award in Poster Presentation earlier this week. The award, sponsored by the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at Alabama State University, was announced by 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Dr. George Smith, who served as plenary speaker for the symposium, held virtually March 10–11. Cason presented his Presidential Fellows research, “Using Chemistry to Understand Nature: From the Waters of the Blue Lagoon to the Composition of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.” Co-authors on the research were Professor Eric A. Kidwell, director of Huntingdon’s Houghton Memorial Library, and Dr. Maureen Kendrick Murphy ’78, professor of chemistry and dean of Huntingdon’s W. James Samford Jr. School of Graduate and Professional Studies. Cason will receive a cash award.
“In Huntingdon’s many years of attending and presenting for this conference, John Samuel Cason is the first Huntingdon student to win this award,” said Mr. Kidwell, who supplied the samples of water from the Blue Lagoon. He collected vials of the water while serving as a faculty adviser and chaperone during a Huntingdon Plan Travel-Study experience in Iceland in 2019.
Dr. Murphy trained Cason on how to use the instrumentation, including the ICP-OES (inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy), in Huntingdon’s chemistry lab. The machine analyzes the content of elements in dissolved samples using plasma and a spectrometer. She also served on the symposium’s advising committee. “I attended all of the [symposium’s] student presentation sessions virtually,” said Dr. Murphy. “In my opinion, John Samuel’s presentation was unique in that his research project was interesting and creative with analysis of samples from the Blue Lagoon in Iceland; he used a very reliable and accurate research method (ICP-OES); and John Samuel was able to describe the technique and the results/conclusions in very clear language.”
Cason completed the research during his freshman year as a member of Huntingdon’s Presidential Fellows Scientific Research Team. In addition to the research for which he won the award, he worked with Presidential Fellows teammates on analysis of metal content in Phalaenopsis orchids, also using the ICP-OES.
“I learned so much during this project,” said Cason. “Beyond the research and learning the use of the instrumentation, the experience taught me to always think through the next steps I will take. I also learned that it is a good to do extra research—to read what others have written on the same or similar topics. The experience taught me to think more broadly, beyond what I’m working on directly.”
Cason’s brown marmorated stink bug and Blue Lagoon water analysis was the first that he and his co-authors could find to be presented or published on either topic. “We learned that stink bugs have a high metallic content of potassium—they have a potassium ion channel protein. The only other insect known to have this characteristic is the fruit fly,” said Cason, who noted that this information could be helpful in the development of products to dissuade or kill stink bugs, since they are considered to be pests in many regions where they appear in high populations. Cason said his research on the Blue Lagoon water was also surprising. He and his co-authors had theorized that they might find a high copper content in the water, which would contribute to its beautiful blue hue. Instead, they found a high amount of silicon. “Silicon is a component of the sand in this region of Iceland, and that is what gives the water its bright blue color.”
The use of instrumentation as sophisticated as the ICP-OES is rare among undergraduates, according to Cason and Murphy, especially for students as young as freshmen. Beyond that, Dr. Murphy said, “It is very rare that freshmen are able to get significant results in their first undergraduate research experience.”
Cason said that involvement in research so early in his undergraduate experience will be invaluable as he and his Presidential Fellows teammates move forward. “It has been great in so many ways—being involved in research this early improves our lab experience and knowledge in our upper-class courses and prepares us better for shadowing, interning, future occupations, life skills, and other future opportunities. It’s also great for our resumes!”
Huntingdon Presidential Fellows are selected based on their academic achievement in high school or as transfer students. Each chooses to participate in one of eight academic teams, providing active learning experiences in support of their professional goals as well as a stackable scholarship in addition to other financial aid for which they may qualify.
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