Austin Allen

ECU undergraduate researcher Austin Allen is using chemical analysis to examine correlations between common preservatives and obesity.

Major: Biochemistry

Mentors: Dr. Allison Danell, Dr. Jack Pender and Dr. David Collier

Department: Chemistry, Thomas Harriot Colllege of Arts and Sciences

Project Title: “Variability in Benzoate Concentration in Common Types of Beverage”

Austin’s study focuses on measuring concentrations of benzoates – substances widely used in food preservatives – and assessing whether measurements are consistent between samples of different beverage types.  Additionally, a systematic quantitation of beverages will allow analysis for statistically significant trends in preservative concentrations across different beverage types, including citrus sodas, diet sodas and more.

How did you get involved in undergraduate research?

I became involved with this research group through an internship I completed during the summer of 2017 with Dr. David Collier at the ECU Pediatric Healthy Weight Research and Treatment Center.  As part of this internship, I shadowed Dr. Collier in clinic and was also exposed to the chemistry research being conducted in his research group. Things went well during the summer, so I was able to continue on with the project full-time once the 2017 fall semester began.

Why did you choose your research topic?

I chose to become involved with this research group because I loved how easily I could see the correlation between patient care and basic science research.  Shadowing in the clinic helped me see firsthand why the work I am doing is so important. This makes it easy to be passionate about completing quality research.

What’s been your favorite part of conducting undergraduate research?

My favorite part of undergraduate research has been working with awesome professors and mentors. In addition to Dr. Collier, I am privileged to work with Dr. Allison Danell and Dr. Jack Pender in the chemistry department.  All three of these individuals have been incredibly helpful and kind. It is amazing how much I have learned from them during my time on this project.

What’s your ultimate goal or accomplishment that you hope your research will help you achieve?

The ultimate goal of our research is to determine the correlation between benzoate preservative consumption and obesity.  Obesity is such a widespread health issue, so working to help people maintain a healthy weight is something I am very passionate about. My portion of this project involves quantitating the amount of benzoate preservatives in beverages.  During the 2017-18 academic year, I helped establish a large database of beverage concentrations of benzoate. This data was used in our clinical studies to help subjects achieve the maximum Acceptable Daily Intake level of benzoate consumption. To build on this work, my goal for the upcoming academic year is to complete my Senior Honors Project and determine trends in beverage concentrations across different beverage categories. If I can find these trends, it will make our lab data much easier to use in patient assessment and not just test subjects in a clinical trial.

Do you have any advice for other students interested in conducting undergraduate research?

My biggest piece of advice to other students would be to find a research topic you are passionate about. If you find this passion, research becomes enjoyable and you will go above and beyond what is expected in your work.