Wednesday, November 4, 2015

OU-C student Mariah Cox making an impact through research endeavors, pursuits in campus Learning Center

By public relations student writer Leah Sternberger

OU-C student Mariah Cox began conducting her own science experiments in the fourth grade. During the summer her passion for food science and agriculture took those experiments abroad to India.

Now a senior at Zane Trace High School, Cox has been taking college classes at OU-C for two years through the college credit plus one program. In addition to playing soccer for her high school, she works as a chemistry student supplemental instructor and writing tutor in the OU-C Learning Center.  Cox believes that helping other students helps her keep critical skills fresh for her future career.

“I plan to major in food science and technology in college, which is a very chemistry heavy field of study. On the other hand, by conducting research studies, I will also need technical writing skills to communicate my research to others through written reports,” Cox said.

The research that led Cox to India began when she started examining the properties of raspberries for a science fair competition in 2013.

“I was taking a food science class at the time, and we were looking at red and gold raspberries. I wanted to do an experiment on what the difference was between them.”

In search of a lab to conduct her experiments, Cox reached out to faculty members at the Ohio State University Department of Food Science and Technology. Ohio State University Associate Professor Monica Guisti allowed Cox to work in her lab at OSU to complete her experiment. She was later hired by OSU Professor of Food Science and Technology Steven Schwartz to continue working on her research, and is also working with graduate student Jessica Cooperstone, although Cox’s research is her own.

“I did my experiment at OSU on the phenolics, or color pigments, of red and gold raspberries,” Cox said.  “I compared them and found that gold raspberries contained less phenolics than their red counterparts. I found that not only are some phenolics missing in the gold raspberries, but they also possess different phenolics than the red raspberries altogether.”

From her findings at OSU, Cox began investigating the potential health benefits of the isolated phenolics. Her current research focuses on isolating alpha amylase and alpha glucosidase inhibitors in the phenolics of gold raspberries that inhibit the breakdown of starch in the human body.

“In the future, I’m hoping to be able to breed gold raspberries to have a higher of content of these inhibitor rich phenolics which could potentially help diabetics.”

Through her food science research Cox became involved with a program called the World Food Prize Organization. Every year the organization recognizes individuals who have done exceptionally well in helping to reduce world hunger with an award. The organization also awards youth who have made strides in agricultural and food science through their Global Youth Institute program. Cox entered the program by writing an essay.

“I wrote my paper on education issues in Haiti,” said Cox. “I wrote about how we can implement programs to educate the youth in Haiti on how to best utilize the land and modern agricultural techniques. They’re currently not very well educated on how to take care of the land and the best methods of growing crops. By implementing programs for their youth, we can empower them to grow up to be more efficient and practice overall better sustainable farming.”

After first presenting her paper at the Ohio Youth Institute, Cox was one of six students from Ohio selected to present at the larger Global Youth Institute. In October of 2014, she presented her paper at the GYI to global agricultural and political leaders.

Through the GYI, Cox applied for the organization’s prestigious Borlaug-Ruan international internship.  The student internship provides high school students with an all-expenses-paid, eight-week hands-on experience, working with world-renowned scientists and policymakers at leading research centers around the globe. Cox was one of 23 students selected for the international program, and was placed at the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) in Hyderabad, India.

“In India I researched vegetable soybeans, also known as edamame,” Cox said.  “A huge issue in India is that many people don’t eat meat. Their low iron diets cause deficiencies and anemia. One of the main objectives of AVRDC is to improve vegetables to contain more nutrients and grow more efficiently.”

Cox looked at a variety of vegetable soybeans with high germination rates and bred them with other strains that produced beans with high nutritional content to get the best results. During her research in India, she also examined the effects of electromagnetic waves on the length of mung bean sprouts.

Her passion for combating world hunger through food and agricultural science largely drove her research in India.

“It’s projected that in 2050 there will be 9 billion people on this earth. There are already people starving now. We are continuously growing, which shows we are successful as a species, but on the other hand it is only going to get harder to feed everyone. We can’t increase the amount of land we have so we must figure out more efficient and sustainable ways to produce food. “

Having completed her internship abroad, Cox returned to the United States this fall to complete her senior year of high school and to continue classes at OU-C and the university’s Lancaster campus.

Next year she hopes to pursue a college degree in food science and technology with a focus on medicine and global health. She is currently considering several schools including Cornell University, Ohio State University, Iowa State University and Penn State University.

“Following the completion of a bachelor’s of science degree, I plan to go to medical school and become a physician. I hope to pursue a career in humanitarian aid using my medical degree and my interests in food science and nutrition.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Mariah! Great job!!