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Summer Research tests nutritional value of black rice

Professor Ann Fabirkiewicz (right) watches as Valarie Osei-Akyeampong ’19 works to extract pigment from a sample of rice

Professor Ann Fabirkiewicz (right) watches as Valarie Osei-Akyeampong ’19 works to extract pigment from a sample of rice

One day recently, Ann Fabirkiewicz, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Chemistry, was reading about the rising popularity and health benefits of black rice. She had never seen the product in a grocery store, so when she read that it contained more antioxidants than blueberries, she decided to put it to the test.

She recruited her advisee, Valarie Osei-Akyeampong ’19, for a Summer Research project, with the goal of extracting pigments and nutrients from grains of black rice. Specifically, they are testing antioxidant capacity, polyphenols, and anthocyanin levels. They also plan to test and compare those properties in red and purple rice, and even brown rice, if time permits.

“The chemistry lab is kind of like a playground for us,” Osei-Akyeampong said. “We’re experimenting with a lot of different things, and there’s a lot of trial and error.”

Part of the fun for the pair of researchers has been seeing the different colors that come from the extracted pigments. The pigments from black rice, for example, produce a dark shade of purple.

Valarie Osei-Akyeampong ’19 works to extract pigment from a sample of rice

Valarie Osei-Akyeampong ’19 works to extract pigment from a sample of rice

“Potentially, black rice could be used as a natural food dye,” Fabirkiewicz said. “We’re not going to get that far this summer, but wouldn’t it be cool to have a natural dye that could turn your Fruit Loops purple and make them healthier by boosting their antioxidant power?”

Osei-Akyeampong initially discovered her interest in chemistry in high school and hopes to one day become a pediatrician. She said the opportunity for hands-on experiments and working closely with her professors are what she likes about Randolph.

“It’s awesome to think about how so many everyday things we use are made from chemicals, and I really enjoy learning what they’re made of,” she said.



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