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DSU faculty and students attend MS Academy of Sciences annual meeting

(L to R) Olivia Pharr, James Starnes, Dr. Nina Baghai-Riding, and Johnathan Leard were among the presenters at the 88th annual meeting of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences in Hattiesburg.

CLEVELAND, Miss. — Six students and seven faculty members from Delta State University’s Division of Mathematics and Sciences presented at the 88th annual meeting of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences (MAS) in Hattiesburg recently. Their contributions included five oral and eight poster presentations.

The faculty presenters from Delta State were Drs. Aniruddha Acharya, Nina Baghai-Riding, Joseph Bentley, Chris Jurgenson, William Katembe, Tanya McKinney, and Charles Smithhart. Chemistry major Johnathan McCaskill and environmental science and biology majors Savannah Conway, Olivia Pharr, and Meredith Rice represented the undergraduate students from the division. Additionally, graduate students Caleb Lankford from the Master of Science in Natural Sciences program and Alexis Hartley from the Chemistry department showcased their innovative research endeavors.

Dr. Nina Baghai-Riding, professor of Biology and Environmental Science, was the co-chair of the Ecology, Entomology, Evolution and Zoology Division. She worked with Dr. Seung-Joon Ahn, Assistant Professor in the Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department from Mississippi State University. Together they coordinated professional and student oral presentations, poster presentations, a field trip to the Hattiesburg Zoo, and chairing sessions. Dr. Baghai-Riding was an invited guest speaker for the same division. Dr. Chris Jurgenson, Associate Professor of Chemistry, served as vice-chair for the Science Education Division.

Several students received recognition for their scientific contributions. Jonathan McCaskill received a Millsaps award for his abstract and a blue-ribbon for his poster titled “Synthesis and Characterization of Silica Aerogels using Supercritical CO2.” He also gave an oral presentation in the Chemistry Division titled “Enzyme promiscuity of an Archaebacterium Hexokinase.”

Oliva Pharr, a junior in Environmental Science and Biology, received a Certificate of Recognition for her poster presentation at the Geology and Geography Division. She coauthored a poster with Baghai-Riding, Dr. Carol Hotton from the US Smithsonian Institution, and James Starnes and Jonathan Leard from the Mississippi Office of Geology.

Meredith Rice, a junior in Environmental Science and Biology, received a first-place award for her oral presentation titled “Analyzing Doliolid Swimming Behaviors and Their Potential Influence on Vertical Distributions using Imaging Technologies.”

Alexis Hartley’s abstract was in the top 10% of graduate student submissions.

Alexis Hartley’s abstract “Using Animations and Videos of 3D Crystalline Structures to aid in Teaching Chemistry Work-in-Progress” was in the top 10% of graduate student submissions. She presented a 3-minute rapid lightning talk about her research for the MAS Scholar Symposium and received a Mississippi INBRE award.

Caleb Lankford and Savannah Conway also received high scores for their poster presentations in the Division of Ecology, Entomology, Evolutionary Biology and Zoology.

Additionally, the first Association for Women Geoscientists Mississippi Chapter meeting occurred during the conference. Baghai-Riding was designated as the Vice President and Meredith Rice and Olivia Pharr were nominated as Student Representatives.

To learn more about the Math and Sciences Division’s degree programs, faculty and scholarship opportunities, visit