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Local students present summer research at HPU

BROWNWOOD – August 29, 2022 – Two area students recently participated in a four-week Summer Research Symposium at Howard Payne University. The students concluded their studies with a presentation to members of their families and HPU faculty.

Brunette, a graduate of Bangs High School, and Aishwarya Nigalye, a senior at Brownwood High School, performed research with HPU’s Department of Physical Science during the month of July. Their project focused on determining if food containers could contaminate foodstuffs through routine usage. With current production and usage of plastics, there has been a growing concern about the toxicity of these materials when they break down. Last year a publication was presented showing these contaminants’ ability to cross the blood brain barrier. While no evidence of health effects is currently known, it is hypothesized that these materials may lead to neurological disorders. On August 2, Brunette and Aishwarya presented their work with the title “Investigation into the Leaching of Microplastics from Food Containers.”

“This program is designed to provide the next generation of scientists with a meaningful experience into what research really is,” explained Dr. Dennis Gibson, associate professor of chemistry and department chair. “What we see in the media may not be always truthful and can lead to misunderstanding in nearly every area of science. We strive to provide quality education to students to set them up for success wherever they end up studying.”

As the students continue their work, Dr. Gibson hopes to collaborate with other institutions and ultimately get the research published.

“It would be great to have these young ladies published either prior to university or during their undergraduate studies,” he said. “That would be very influential in their future career plans.”

The Summer Research Symposium will be an annual summer event hosting high school juniors and seniors. Interested applicants can email Dr. Gibson at to be added to a list for future communications. A general call for applications will be sent in January 2023.


Photo #1: Pictured from left to right are Dr. Dennis Gibson, associate professor of chemistry and department chair; Taylor Jefferis, HPU senior and lab assistant; Aishwarya Nigalye; and Yesenia Brunette.

Photo #2: This image shows microplastics found in food containers utilized in everyday practice.