Dixie State University houses research that could potentially revolutionize the medical field.
Chemistry assistant professor Rico Del Sesto, who is 2014’s “Rising Star” Teacher of the Year, was the catalyst to the research of ionic liquids to treat and prevent skin infections. Del Sesto brought the research to DSU after researching at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Since being at DSU, he has been working with biology assistant professor Don Warner and DSU students to further research ionic liquids and their vast capabilities.
Del Sesto has received national attention for his research on ionic liquids and was published in “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science” in August. The research demonstrates the ability to tune ionic liquids to be toxic or non-toxic and to use them to kill bacteria without affecting skin cells.
Aimee Newsham, a senior biology major from Preston, Idaho, has been researching ionic liquids for two years and foresees endless potential uses for ionic liquids.
“What we’ve been researching is what we call super bugs,” Newsham said. “You know, like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus), antibiotic resistant bugs basically. So we’ve been researching the affect that ionic liquids have on these super bugs.”
Del Sesto encourages student-based research and values the joint effort between students and professors.
“[The research] hopefully demonstrates that students can do undergraduate research, [and] as an undergraduate, you don’t have to solve a whole problem by yourself,” Del Sesto said. “You can do small pieces of large projects and still be successful and own that piece of the larger collaboration.”
While Del Sesto was at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he collaborated with Northern Arizona University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He continues to work with these schools to enhance the research.
“It’s kind of a neat area because the students here at Dixie can actually do the chemistry and the microbiology we need and become part of this larger collaboration that exists,” Del Sesto said. “I think it really is the ideal place for Dixie to be, which is a resource for some of the largest schools that have access to more complex, more elaborate institutions.”
Physical Science Chair Kelly Bringhurst views this research as beneficial to students’ education and career goals.
“The student research opportunity and the fact that student research is being published is the main benefit for the students,” Bringhurst said. “This gives students an opportunity to be involved and expand their education beyond a regular classroom, and that’s going to be important if they go into any field in graduate school or medical school where research is important.”
Brittany Hammontree, a recent DSU biology major graduate, researched ionic liquids to provide people with a more efficient way to receive vitamin B-12 and valued the freedom, as well as guidance, Del Sesto provided to his students. Hammontree said undergraduate research is critical, especially when considering graduate or medical school, and she said she was grateful Del Sesto gave students the opportunity to branch out beyond the classroom.
“You’re just not a real scientist until you can implement what you’ve been taught,” Hammontree said. “It’s all fine and dandy to read something in a book or be taught by a professor, but to do research yourself, it’s like you’re sworn in. Rico would give us all the information we needed and then let us go out on our own to figure out what we wanted to do with that information.”
Del Sesto’s future goals are to have more students elbows-deep into research and for DSU departments to become more intertwined with one another.
“Students should know that the research that is continuing from this point forward is student-driven,” Del Sesto said. “We have the undergraduate research committee that’s trying to not only foster the undergraduate research learning, but also get other departments to see what other departments are doing. So have the arts, and the humanities, and sciences get together, and share ideas and share results so people can see we’re not isolated factions. We’re a university.”