Scientific Research Opportunities

Students in the Natural Science Division have the opportunity to work alongside professors on ongoing research projects on a wide variety of topics. Participating in a research project enables students to practically apply classroom concepts, develop their creativity and analytical thinking, gain hands-on experience with scientific equipment and learn how to present research results to the scientific community. Research experience will help students gain entrance to professional programs and prepare students for their career of choice. 

The Newton Research Group

Dr. Susan Newton is involved in an ongoing renewable energy research project. The project has the potential to significantly reduce local, nationwide, and global resource use and engage the local community in the development and maintenance of the project.

Dr. Newton (Natural Science-Chemistry) and Dr. Ted Song (Engineering) co-led a team of five JBU students at the 2017 National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington D.C. The team previously won a grant for $15,000 for the development of a biogas digester during the school year and submitted their project reports to compete for a second grant of $75,000 to implement their designs and potentially bring them to the marketplace. The team received $1,000 and the 2017 Youth Council for Sustainable Science and Technology P3 Award for their design, which is given to the team that best exemplifies interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation during the development of the project. The award also came with an invitation to present the team’s work at the 2017 AlChE Annual Meeting in October.

The Wakefield Research Group

Dr. Tim Wakefield has been researching stream ecology in NW Arkansas for the past 10 years, assessing the health of the wadeable streams in the area around John Brown University. Dr. Wakefield and his team of undergraduate researchers have been focused on Sager Creek, a small stream that flows through the city of Siloam Springs as well as the campus of John Brown University. Students are heavily involved in this project, helping to determine the locations on the streams that will be tested, collecting and analyzing data, and selecting which streams will be used for future research.

Dr. Wakefield is also studying the behavior of Orca whales. Currently, Dr. Wakefield is working with other professionals to analyze collected data and produce writings on the findings.

The Ellenbarger Research Group

Dr. Jill Ellenbarger is involved in an ongoing research project to develop molecules that undergo a distinct color change to selectively identify the presence of several of the most prevalent, hazardous negatively-charged contaminants. Much like a single key is able to fit into a specific lock, we seek to develop urea-based compounds that are complementary to specific anions of interest. Research students are mentored by Dr. Ellenbarger as they tackle specific challenges with a variety of computational chemistry tools.

Please feel free to contact Dr. Ellenbarger at

More details


Negatively-charged particles, anions, comprise a major contingent of the most common chemical contaminants in drinking water, but research regarding anion sensors continue to be a growing area due to the physical and chemical difficulties associated with working with anions. Anions exhibit chemical sensitivity to pH and solvent choice, and anions exist in a variety of sizes and geometries that influence the weak interactions between the charged particles and their respective chemical environments. To this end, the Ellenbarger group at John Brown University is working to design chromogenic, urea-based receptors that selectively bind anions according to size, shape and energetic environment in aqueous solutions.

Urea is a common, naturally-occurring compound that interacts with anions through weak hydrogen-bonding interactions. While hydrogen-bonding interactions are weaker than a formal chemical bond, the magnitude and three-dimensional orientation of the hydrogen-bonding interactions between urea and the anion can be modified by incorporating one or more urea groups into a molecular framework. Much like a specific key is able to fit into and access a specific lock, several urea-based frameworks have been shown to exhibit specificity of anion binding according to differences in the size, orientation and energetic environment of the receptor framework. We seek to further explore this area by computationally considering the factors that influence anion binding in order to synthesize and characterize “tailored” receptors that target specific anions of interest.

We appreciate continued collaboration with and support through the Arkansas High Performance Computing Center (AHPCC)

The research group

Dr. Jill Ellenbarger graduated from Union University in 2011 with a B.S. in Chemistry. She then attended Texas A&M University, working for Kim R. Dunbar, and completed her Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2016. In August 2016, Jill began at John Brown University as an Assistant Professor in the Division of Natural Science. In addition to chemistry, Jill loves Jesus, her husband Michael, spontaneous adventures and ice cream!

Jaydee Edwards is entering her sophomore year at John Brown University studying chemistry and photography. In January 2017, she began this research project with Dr. Jill Ellenbarger and could not be more excited. Already in this time period, her understanding about the process of research, chemistry, and computational work has deepened. She is a lover of all things music, traveling, a good book, rainy days, hot tea, museums, tall mountains, the sea, and of course, chemistry.

Are you a current or incoming JBU student interested in joining our research team? Email Dr. E for more information!

The Wang Research Group

Dr. Angie Wang is interested in the neural circuitry of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. The current project is to investigate the activities of a few different types of brain cells during animal depression-like behavior and how antidepressants influence those cells.

Lab setup and the current preliminary research is funded by a grant from the Arkansas Ideas Network for Biomedical Research.

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The brain is not just a bag of chemicals, and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are not just the imbalance of the chemicals. Instead, many structures and processes are involved. Dr. Wang’s lab is interested in the functions of interneurons in mood disorders. There are many types of inhibitory interneurons in the brain, and they are involved in brain functions in distinct ways. The lab currently focuses on the three non-overlapping subtypes of interneurons and how their activities change during animal depression-like behavior with or without antidepressants.

Student involvement

Students in the lab participate in many aspects of the research from the design of experiments, to the interpretation and communication of the results. Outside of the lab, students regularly present background mini-lectures and publications to the lab team. Inside the lab, they are exposed to basic neuroscience techniques such as animal behavior, brain slicing, immunohistochemistry, and fluorescent microscopy. They also have many opportunities for poster and oral presentations at conferences.

The future you starts at JBU.