College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences

Saving Clemson’s Mascot

There are only 3,200 wild tigers left in the world. The enormity of this problem has not gone unnoticed by Clemson students. In 1997, Clemson students founded Tigers for Tigers, a student initiative to support tiger conservation around the world. As Tigers for Tigers president Sean Carnell explains, “There are over fifty schools out there with tiger mascots. Here at Clemson, we know how much pride these mascots make us feel for our school. So we decided to work with other schools to extend the pride from the football field to help real tigers in the wild.”

Initially, Tigers for Tigers aimed to create a national coalition and host the first national summit to promote collegiate awareness about the situation. The student group was able to gain the support of President Barker, who sent letters to other tiger mascot schools to enlist support for the cause. Collaborating with the 57 other tiger mascot universities was not an easy task. Tigers for Tigers advisor, Dr. David Tonkyn, and a group of dedicated students formed a Creative Inquiry team. After two years of hard work, the team made the dream of a national coalition become a reality, as the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition was formed. This united effort allows students across the country to work together through social media, advocacy programs and involvement abroad to help protect tigers. In April 2013, the team hosted a National Tigers for Tigers Summit. The purpose of the Summit was to establish a foundation for the national organization, develop a strategic plan for students helping tigers and promote student awareness of the issues associated with tiger conservation.

The 2013 conference was an enormous success. Featured speakers included Dr. Ron Tilson, a world premiere tiger biologist, Dr. John Fitzgerald, the senior policy director for the Society for Conservation Biology, representatives from the International Fund for Animal Welfare and many others. While sparking awareness and admiration in students interested in tiger conservation, visiting tiger experts also helped the Creative Inquiry team establish Tigers for Tigers as a national organization. Carnell explains, “we built wonderful connections with our partners. Especially at the conference, we worked with wonderful people who knew exactly what needed to happen to make a change. They showed us how national policies are developed. It was way more exciting than reading a textbook.”

Beyond the conference, Tigers for Tigers is working to improve its social media outreach program through developing a Facebook page and filming viral videos to spread awareness. And the Creative Inquiry group aims to promote the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, a federal bill banning the private ownership of big cats in the United States. Also, for the past nine years, Tonkyn and former Director of International Student Services Louis Bregger have offered an opportunity for students to visit India to see tigers in the wild and learn about their conservation. Such opportunities are important for the success of the coalition, Carnell notes, because “that’s where all the motivation started for us. We went to India, saw tigers in the wild, and came back excited to help.” The incredibly diverse number of projects Tigers for Tigers encompasses makes this Creative Inquiry project applicable to students with all sorts of interests including finance, marketing and biological sciences.

As Tigers for Tigers continues to grow and develop, the group hopes to expand on a national level. But as 11 schools are now united across the country, working tirelessly to help real tigers around the world, Tigers for Tigers has successfully made solid steps to saving Clemson’s beloved mascot: the Bengal tiger.

Finding Flavor and Fighting Sickness in Food

Coffee and cancer aren’t often mentioned in the same sentence, but in Dr. Feng Chen’s laboratory, both are topics of much debate. On Dr. Chen’s Creative Inquiry team, students from the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Science get lab experience in a variety of food-related subjects, from analyzing the flavor of coffee to evaluating the clinical potential of certain fruit extracts. Students probe questions like, “When and why does coffee go bad?” and “Why are blueberries considered so healthy?”

Nutraceuticals, the development of a food towards medical purposes such as disease prevention, is just one of the many fields investigated by this Creative Inquiry group. The team originally started researching a set of compounds found in cottonseed oil called polyphenols. Through extraction and analysis, these polyphenols were discovered to contain a plethora of medical applications. These compounds are anti- almost anything you can imagine: antioxidant, anticancer, antiparasitic, and the list goes on. Although many of their properties are still being analyzed, these polyphenolic chemicals show good potential for future drugs.

With success using cotton, the Southern cash crop, the group started to wonder if other harvested goods held similar health-promoting properties. The team turned to blueberries and Southern-grown muscadine grapes. They were shown to have similar, but distinct polyphenols from cottonseed oil.

In these natural delectables, the students are investigating a particular subset of polyphenols called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are part of what gives plants their red, blue, and purple colors. These chemicals are proving to be just as promising as the polyphenols found in cottonseed oil – research shows that they can fight conditions like diabetes.

Because Dr. Chen’s lab contains all the complex equipment needed to extract chemicals, his Creative Inquiry team has been able to step into new territories – the flavors of various foods. Currently, the team is investigating two of America’s favorite goodies: chocolate and coffee. Instead of using the standard method of taste testing and subjective judgment, the students are approaching these guilty pleasures in a different manner: a purely analytical one. They are using flavor chemistry, or the chemical analysis of foods for natural and artificial flavor development and enhancement, to change how we think about these refreshments. Students looked at how the chemical composition of coffee changes from 30 to 60 minutes after brewing to determine what causes coffee to go bad, giving it that universally disdained burnt taste.

Dr. Chen boasts that his lab has some of the best opportunities at Clemson University to practice proper lab technique. “Results are good, but we really encourage students to learn critical thinking but also to gain an independent capability for research and to discover how to write scientific papers.” Students are able to work with state-of-the-art instruments, such as a high-performance liquid chromatography machine and a UV-visible spectrophotometer, something that a normal undergraduate would never have the opportunity to interact with. No matter what subject the members are researching, they always take away valuable research experience.