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GGC student takes part in UT research program

Jessie Ashworth, a Buford High graduate and senior at Georgia Gwinnett College, studies how bacteria work together during a 10-week summer course at the University of Tennessee’s chemistry department. (Special Photo)

Jessie Ashworth, a Buford High graduate and senior at Georgia Gwinnett College, studies how bacteria work together during a 10-week summer course at the University of Tennessee’s chemistry department. (Special Photo)

LAWRENCEVILLE — Jessie Ashworth has taken away two things from his summer in Knoxville, Tenn: He’s learned what it’s like to work in a laboratory setting, and he’s added a key line to his resume.

For the Georgia Gwinnett College senior, that made a 10-week program conducting research in chemistry at the University of Tennessee worthwhile. Ashworth, a 2010 Buford High graduate, was one of eight students out of about 80 from across the country selected for the Summer Undergraduate Research Program in chemistry, which ends this week.

“They’re doing things that sounds interesting,” recalled Ashworth about being interested in applying for the program.

The other students are working on other areas of chemistry to make the research on bacteria more well-rounded, Ashworth said.

“This has helped a lot as far as helping understand what most people do in a laboratory setting,” he said. “It will also help my resume look a little better, see how it feels to be in a research environment.”

Ashworth became interested in the field after he took organic chemistry classes as a sophomore.

A biochemistry major, Ashworth’s research focuses on biological and agricultural engineering, specifically marine biology. Working with professor Shawn Campagna and several doctoral students, Ashworth studied the chemical processes that involve metabolism and its byproducts, metabolites. Metabolites are what bacteria use to communicate with each other, Ashworth said.

Ashworth used five 24-hour experiments, and at times worked 12 hours in the lab, to grow bacteria and freeze organisms to create snapshots of the organism’s metabolic makeup.

Ashworth said he hopes his research helps scientists better understand coral bleaching, which could lead to a lack of biodiversity in the ocean.

“We’re not sure why it’s happening,” he said. “I want to help the environment keep things clean, but also help people in general.”

The UT chemistry department has offered critical research and professional development skills to undergraduate students through its summer program for more than 10 years. This year, the program was awarded a three-year-grant from the National Science Foundation and is officially recognized as a site for research experiences for undergraduates, according to its web site.

Ashworth plans to apply to graduate schools soon, and a career dream would be to work with biofuels. He said he could see himself working in a government lab to learn how to turn microbes or algae to produce a better quality fuel.