Clark Scholars Spend Summer Delving into Research Projects

Elizabeth Bentley

Bioengineering major Elizabeth Bentley explains her research on incorporating antibiotics into bone cement.

Seventeen UT Dallas students spent the summer immersed in research projects that touched on topics from bioengineering and environmental chemistry to atmospheric physics and advanced wound healing.

Through the Clark Summer Research Program, managed by the Office of Undergraduate Education, UT Dallas undergraduates are matched with faculty mentors and spend nine weeks conducting research in the mentors’ labs. The group, consisting primarily of incoming freshmen, recently wrapped up their work at the annual Clark Research Symposium, where Clark Scholars displayed posters summarizing their projects and described their research to faculty, staff, students and parents.

Incoming freshman Elizabeth Bentley is majoring in bioengineering. Her summer project looked at incorporating antibiotics into bone cement, a biomaterial used to help anchor artificial joints to bones in the body.

“Infection is a really big problem with total joint replacements and other implantable devices,” Bentley said. “We incorporated lactose into the cement in order to create a porous structure, which is good because cement with pores can hold more antibiotic and release more to treat and prevent infection. The pores can also be bad, because we’re basically poking holes into the cement structure, which could lower the strength of the material and result in implant failure.”

Bentley acquired hands-on engineering experience when she conducted mechanical stress tests on the lactose-infused cement. The goal is to find a concentration of lactose that will maintain a high level of antibiotic release while having the least impact on mechanical strength.

“Biomedical engineering is such a broad field, there are so many things you can do with it,” Bentley said.

Soumitra Lele

Soumitra Lele’s research has application in accelerating wound healing.

Freshman Mary Smith focused her efforts on identifying molecules that can selectively capture arsenic from water. Such molecules might be incorporated into a filter, she said.

“This has enormous possibilities,” Smith said. “Ultimately we might use different molecules that can capture various types of metals, like mercury or cadmium. It’s very exciting.”

Freshman bioengineering major Soumitra Lele spent the summer investigating ways to incorporate the molecule nitric oxide into electrospun nonwoven polymer fiber mats. A bandage made from such mats might accelerate healing, Lele said.

“There are lots of potential applications,” he explained. “I’m interested in medicine, so the applications of this project gave me the most motivation.”

Recipients of UT Dallas’ Academic Excellence Scholarship (AES) awards are eligible to apply each spring for a position in the Clark program. Scholars are provided a stipend and work full time on campus. Incoming freshmen with AES awards are given priority consideration.

“Three months ago these students really did not know much about their research topics,” said Dr. Paul Pantano, associate professor of chemistry at UT Dallas and the Clark Program faculty advisor. “It always amazes me at the end of the nine weeks, when you listen to them describe their research, just how far they’ve come.”

The Clark Foundation established a permanent endowment in 1978 to support the summer research program in recognition of the interests of Dr. Anson L. Clark. The foundation’s philanthropic activities have for many decades supported scholarly endeavors at a number of Texas colleges and universities, including the Anson L. Clark Memorial Lecture, the Clark Summer Research Program and the Clark Presidential Scholarship, all at UT Dallas.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].