Centenary professor is a science ambassador

Elm Grove Middle School students treat plants with Gibberellic Acid during their afterschool Starbase 2.0 program.

 

December 1, 2016

SHREVEPORT, LA — Centenary College biology professor Dr. Rebecca Murphy is a dedicated researcher who understands that science doesn’t just live in a lab. Murphy was a recent winner at the ArkLaTex Interdisciplinary Cell Conference and has also partnered with a local middle school to introduce students to hands-on plant biology research.

The American Society for Cell Biology hosted the ArkLaTex Interdisciplinary Cell Conference at LSU Shreveport on Saturday, November 5. The event brought together local scientists from the undergraduate through the faculty level for discussions about research.

“I was one of six individuals to give a talk, and I ended up winning the best oral presentation award,” says Murphy. “To be honest, I didn’t know we were competing – I just really like my research! My talk was on the genetics of making plants grow taller for bioenergy through a better understanding of when they start to flower.”

Murphy also recently began volunteering at Elm Grove Middle School through the Department of Defense’s Starbase 2.0 afterschool program and met Spencer Kiper, a STEM teacher at the school. Murphy brought Kiper’s class plants called FASTplants that are deficient in Gibberellic Acid (GA), a natural plant hormone that helps plants grow taller. Murphy is helping the Elm Grove students treat the deficient plants with GA and then measure stem lengths to check for growth. Two of Murphy’s Centenary students, Melissa Traver and Halen Sumner, have recently joined her to help the Elm Grove students measure and record data from the hormone treatments. They’ll return later this month to assist the middle schoolers as they perform DNA extractions on the plants.

By involving her Centenary students in hands-on science education, Murphy helps them engage with the public and communicate about science in innovative ways. She also created a research group, affectionately called “Children of the Sorghum,” to study sorghum bicolor, an important food and feed crop that has recently generated interest as a source of bioenergy. Murphy’s students are assisting with research in breeding, germplasm screens, and genetic techniques to further understand sorghum bicolor and its potential as a renewable biofuel.