June 15, 2016 : By Drew Menard
Recent Liberty University graduate Conner Fleming received the Best Chemistry Poster Award at the Virginia Academy of Science Annual Meeting at the University of Mary Washington in May.
Fleming and 2016 alumnus Zach Schreiber collaborated on the “Characterization of Algal Pigments Using Absorbance and Fluorescence.” Schreiber was unable to attend the meeting, where judges review published articles, posters, and oral presentations from hundreds of students and faculty members from across the commonwealth. Competition is not limited to undergraduate students; many submissions are from master’s students, Ph.D. students, professors, and research technicians.
Fleming and Schreiber conducted their research under the direction of Dr. Todd Allen, associate professor of chemistry in the Department of Biology & Chemistry, as part of a long-term project analyzing algae samples for their biofuel potential.
“Algae have the potential to be used for a variety of applications, including as an alternative to petroleum-based feedstock necessary for transportation fuels, pigments, nutraceuticals, and as a source of protein for animal feed,” Allen explained. “Extraction and purification methods for the different products is important for commercialization. Pigments are often extracted with the compounds that are converted to biofuels, and are considered an unwanted contaminant.”
Fleming and Schreiber investigated absorbance and fluorescence techniques for characterizing the different pigments extracted from various types of algae, laying the groundwork for identifying ways to improve extraction and purification techniques, which will be continued by other Liberty students.
Allen, who came to Liberty after working in private industry for 15 years, most recently as an analytical laboratory manager, said that he really enjoys teaching at Liberty, where he is free to integrate his Christian faith with his love of science.
“Conner, Zach, and many other students in the biology and chemistry department are being equipped and prepared with knowledge and skills that can be used to impact their world for Christ and to be successful in their careers,” Allen said. “I thoroughly love teaching and interacting with my students in ways that challenge and encourage them to use what they have learned in their time at Liberty University.”
Liberty students are consistently garnering awards and research grants at the annual VAS meeting and fall undergraduate meeting. A year ago, Liberty won its first graduate student award, taking the prize after only one year of having a graduate program in biology. Last October, Liberty students took home two of the five research grants awarded at the VAS Fall Undergraduate Meeting.