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July 5, 2011

Cowley instructor taking sabbatical to earn doctorate


Scott LaytonLooking to further his education, Cowley College Natural Science Department instructor Scott Layton is taking a one-year sabbatical to work towards his doctorate.

Layton obtained his bachelors and masters degrees from Oklahoma State University and has returned to the school to work on his doctorate.

By being named Cowley College’s Endowed Chair in 2009, Layton received financial assistance to help with continuing education.

Thanks to his advisor at OSU, Jason Belden, Layton was able to get into the Environmental Science program. He spent one year as a special student in the program and also took classes through the University of Maryland, Iowa State University, and Wichita State University.

Slade Griffiths, Cowley College vice president of academic affairs, considers this a win-win for Layton, the college and the students.

“I was particularly pleased that the Board approved Scott’s doctoral sabbatical,” Griffiths said. “He is currently conducting his research here at Cowley so students have the opportunity to learn more about scientific inquiry and the formation of new knowledge.

During his sabbatical, Layton will be assessing the effects sunscreen and flame retardant products have on the species Daphnia magna water flea, which is a cladoceran freshwater crustacean. The Daphnia are widely used as a laboratory animal for testing ecotoxicity.

In normal conditions, Daphnias should produce only female offspring. However, during times of environmental stress, you can find males in the population.

“One of the major factors driving the study is that the chemical structure of some common sunscreen products resembles the natural male producing hormone found in Daphnia,” Layton said.

Layton will conduct research on three sunscreens and two flame retardant products, with testing being conducted over a five-month period. Most of the research/testing will be conducted at Cowley College with some testing being done at Oklahoma State University.

“I will mix the chemicals myself, conduct the experiments, and then take the samples to OSU for conformation,” Layton said.

Layton will conduct a sub-lethal toxicity test and give the Daphnia a concentration level low enough that it will not kill them, and will then perform an acute test to determine what concentration level it takes to be lethal to the Daphnia.

“This is part of my dissertation, but the real impact is you can find any of these chemicals in freshwater sources such as rivers, lakes, and oceans,” Layton said. “This is a way for us to determine how these chemicals affect aquatic species.”

Layton gathered water samples from 10 lakes in Oklahoma over the July 4th weekend and then will take the samples to OSU to determine the concentration of the chemicals in the water source.

“My goal is to have the findings published in Environmental Science Journals,” Layton said.

As part of his work, Layton will develop a comprehensive set of lab procedures for undergraduate biology students in regards to endocrine disruption, which are chemicals that interfere with the hormone system in animals.

“I will create a lab procedure simple enough to let the students do it,” Layton said. “When using Daphnia Magna’s they are easy to manipulate and grow.”

The three main chapters of his dissertation consist of toxicity testing, environmental sampling, and lab protocols.

“If you are not passionate about the topic, you probably are not going to finish the program,” Layton said. “You have got to be vested in the topic.”

During his sabbatical, Layton will continue to teach a microbiology class at Cowley College and will still serve as an advisor and committee member. He will begin teaching an Introduction to Research Methods course in the fall.

“It would be improbable for me to complete my doctorate in a reasonable amount of time without the sabbatical,” Layton said. “This will provide me with more experience and research in a lab setting. It will also allow me to design and write labs more meaningful to biology majors.”