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Grant Supports Research to Detect Contaminates in Water

JBU Dr. Jill EllenbargerSILOAM SPRINGS, Arkansas (Aug. 21, 2017) – Dr. Jill Ellenbarger, John Brown University assistant professor of chemistry, was awarded the 2017 Christian Scholars Foundation grant by Intervarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network. The $7,500 grant will support Ellenbarger’s ongoing research to design compounds that change colors when exposed to chemical contaminants in drinking water.

The idea for Ellenbarger’s research began when friends living in Africa started experiencing health issues, unaware they had prolonged exposure to high levels of fluoride from a faulty well.

Ellenbarger began developing a solution to this problem through computational chemistry techniques, which simulate chemical interactions within a controlled environment.

During the 2016-2017 academic year, Ellenbarger began the first phase of her research that investigated how contaminants interact in water and the basic structure that allows molecules to change colors in response to contaminants like fluoride and nitrate.

Ellenbarger partnered with the Arkansas High Performance Computing Center who provided computational resources and hired two JBU chemistry students, Nathan Moreton and Jaydee Edwards, who used high level computational approaches to understand the factors that influence chemical interactions between contaminants and color-changing compounds in water.

“The two undergraduate research students who participated have been invaluable,” Ellenbarger said. “Each student has tackled their own individual project in pursuit of my overall research.

Through the work this summer, I have identified a promising framework to focus my research efforts going forward.”

The Christian Scholars Fellowship grant enables Ellenbarger to facilitate a six-week undergraduate research program in summer 2018 for two more full-time summer student researchers. By mentoring undergraduate researchers, Ellenbarger will give JBU students the knowledge and experience in computational research while furthering her own research.

Ultimately Ellenbarger hopes to develop simple color-changing test kits that can be deployed to remote locations around the world to test water for contaminates as well as refine the process of designing compounds using computational methods.

“I have appreciated the tremendous support for my research from the Christian Scholars Foundation, JBU and the Division of Natural Sciences,” Ellenbarger said. “Through the generous support of the Christian Scholars Foundation grant, I am excited to expand my research program at JBU to engage more undergraduate students in computational chemistry research as we pursue the global challenge of identifying water contamination.”




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