Research on renewable energy and cancer by Tusculum students earns more financial support

GREENEVILLE – Research by Tusculum University undergraduate students on renewable energy and cancer-fighting drugs has received additional financial support from an external source.

Eastman recently awarded funds to the Tusculum chemistry program’s growing research enterprise. The money will provide meaningful support for the university’s chemistry and biology students as they conduct research in the Meen Center’s state-of-the-art laboratories on subjects with global applications.

“Having the opportunity to examine potential solutions that could significantly enhance people’s lives demonstrates the active and experiential education Tusculum offers,” said Dr. Dennis Ashford, an assistant professor of chemistry, who is overseeing the research efforts. “Support from Eastman and others is contributing to our commitment to civic engagement and is crucial to our students’ ability to perform cutting-edge research.”

Students are looking into designing and making new materials for solar energy conversion and new drugs for chemotherapeutic applications.

To date, students researching anti-cancer prodrugs have successfully synthesized and characterized five new compounds that are being tested for their anti-cancer properties. Those who are working on the renewable energy project have successfully synthesized a new hydrogen evolution catalyst, which will be tested for its ability to generate renewable fuels for sunlight.

Dr. Ashford said the $3,500 Eastman contribution will provide helpful supplies for the research effort.

Founded in 1920, Eastman is a global advanced materials and specialty additives company that produces a broad range of products found in items people use every day. Driven by a purpose to enhance the quality of life in a material way, the company is committed to advancing educational opportunities that ensure students and educators have the resources needed to inspire the next generation of creators, problem-solvers and courageous leaders.

In 2018, the East Tennessee Foundation helped kick-start the research program with a $5,000 grant. Then in 2019, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations provided Tusculum a $52,750 grant, which included a stipend and housing assistance for two undergraduate students to conduct full-time research during two summers.

When the global coronavirus pandemic led Tusculum to move solely to online instruction in March, the research program was put on hold. With students having returned to the classroom and labs for the 2020-21 academic year, the research program will resume. Dr. Ashford said the foundations understood the situation that developed in the spring and permitted Tusculum to retain the grants for use when students could return to the labs.

Initial results the students produce in their research and financial backing the university has received so far will help the chemistry program as it pursues grants in the future from the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation, Dr. Ashford said.

Dr. Heather Henson-Ramsey, dean of Tusculum’s College of Science, Technology and Math, said the combination of foundation and company support, a professor focused on expanding research horizons and students eager to be pioneers in science will create a synergistic effect.

“We are grateful to work closely with Eastman and these excellent foundations and thank them for recognizing the value of our students’ research,” Dr. Henson-Ramsey said. “With our talented faculty and students, as well as these grant funds, we will be in an excellent position to move the needle on renewable energy and cancer treatment. We embrace that opportunity.”

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