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Benita Bell, Ph.D.

Photo: Dr. Benita Bell

Benita P. Bell currently serves as the Director of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics(STEM) Program at Bennett College. She is also an Associate Professor of Chemistry in the Division of Natural and Behavioral Sciences/Mathematics. Her passion embodies the broad field of science education and her belief is that students possess the inner potential to achieve whatever they set their mind to achieve. Dr. Bell has had a diverse career. In addition to her teaching at Bennett College, she has taught chemistry at Howard University and North Carolina Central University. Dr. Bell was awarded a NASA Administrator.s Fellowship position where she served as a NASA Fellow in the Office of Biological and Physical Research at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. There she developed a clinical research study on soy isoflavones and their role in immunity and heart disease. Her goal is to work collaboratively to incorporate space science research, education and outreach into the curriculum at Bennett College. She continues to conduct research during her summers at NASA Centers. Dr. Bell has also worked as a Sales Manager in medical sales for Johnson and Johnson and in pharmaceutical sales for Smithkline. In addition to science education, she also has a passion for the field of public health and environmental issues that affect disease prevention in the Community at large. She received her bachelors degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her masters degree in chemistry from North Carolina A∓T State University and her doctoral degree in nutrition and chemistry from Howard University.

Dr. Bell recently received the Exemplary Teacher of the Year Award. This recognition was awarded from the Division of Higher Education and the United Methodist Church Related Institutions.

2004 Project Description

The focus of my summer research project will be to enhance space science research, education and outreach through the development of a research project model that can serve as a research template for the MIAC institutions and other HBCU.s . This summer will involve establishing the research plan and methodology that will be a collaborative astrobiology project between Bennett College and Dr. George Cooper.s research lab at NASA Ames. The goal is for students and faculty at Bennett to collaborate with Dr. Cooper at Ames on the analysis of the organic compounds in meteorites. This is the research currently conducted by Dr. George Cooper in the Astrobiology and Life Sciences Directorate at Ames. Two principal needs for ongoing research in this area are the synthesis of standards as well as ongoing analysis by GC-MS and HPLC. Meteorites are the only items available for the study of early Solar System organic chemistry. The carbonaceous meteorites such as the Murchison meteorite (the focus of this project) contain some of the oldest components in the Solar System. Some of the inclusions in Murchison are dated to approximately 4.6 billion years ago. This allows us a remarkable snapshot of the very earliest organic chemistry. Many classes of organic compounds are known to be indigenous to carbonaceous meteorites including amino acids, carboxylic acids, amides, sulfonic acids, etc. However, there are many unknown compounds as one look at a chromatogram makes clear. This is where enthusiastic students with a bent towards chemical detective work would be valuable. Students will engage in comprehensive literature searches in preparation for the synthesis of standards to evaluate the best procedures for the analysis of individual compounds. Students could then travel to NASA Ames to participate in the analyses on instruments relevant to the proposed research.

The goal of implementing this particular astrobiology research project at Bennett College will be to increase the number of underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines. This research project will provide students with opportunities to engage in applied laboratory science training that will enhance their understanding of research and thereby aid in the retention of science majors. In addition, this project will provide an exciting research opportunity for enhanced faculty collaborations between our MIAC institutions.


Program Fellows