Deb Mlsna

Deb Mlsna


  • Faculty


  • Education


  • Associate Professor



  • Hand Lab 1132

B.S. Chemistry, Davidson College, Davidson, NC
Ph.D. Chemistry, University of Texas-Austin, Austin, TX

Research interests in the Deb Mlsna group focus on Chemical Education and learning pathways for undergraduate students. We are involved in numerous projects that focus on the development of critical thinking skills, interaction among students in laboratory environments, factors that impact student success, and incorporation of novel teaching approaches and materials that encourage student understanding.  The development of supportive environments for undergraduate education is our priority.  This principle supports academic success for our students and further explores the interactions that impact understanding.

Many of the programs supported through our research group enhance research experiences for undergraduate students.  Our multi-year highly successful REU-INFEWS program supports students from across the country to explore issues of Food, Energy and Water Security.  Focus on biofuels, water purification and soil augmentation link research projects across campus that train students in environmental issues and global thinking. This program also encourages entrepreneurial thinking for students as we focus upon the dynamics of starting and running a small business.

Our 2019 Summer Research Cohort supported a total of 41 students in research activities (shown at Undergraduate Symposium with research mentors).  The REU-INFEWS program, other external funding sources, and the MSU Department of Chemistry all supported students for participation.

In addition, Deb Mlsna is co-PI for the NSF S-STEM program: Mathematics as a Common Language in Science, which supports students through scholarships and research experiences to follow STEM careers in the physical sciences.  Cohorts of students benefit from supportive mentoring experiences and outreach to connect with other students interested in STEM careers.

STEM Students included with the Alternative Energy in Iceland and Scandinavia course run by Drs. Todd and Deb Mlsna.  Students enjoyed hiking and studying geothermal energy in Iceland.

Research within the Deb Mlsna lab centers on two broad categories:
Critical Thinking and Metacognition in the Classroom
Our work focuses on the development of critical thinking skills in the General Chemistry classroom.  A highly successful recitation program supports General Chemistry I and encourages student interactions through peer mentoring.  Much of our current research focus explores peer interactions through group quiz assignments and peer interactions. Eye-tracking studies are used to gain insight into how students interact with word problems during these exercises.

Laboratory Learning

A second focus in our research group is the development of undergraduate experiments to stimulate learning in the laboratory.  Many of our experiments are based on the research activities occurring in our department with a focus toward relevant, real world experiences related to environmental, biochemical, and nanoparticle topics.

Students interested in Research

We are always looking for quality graduate and undergraduate researchers to join our research team. Graduate students interested in joining the lab should be focused on teaching as a career path since the chemical education pathway focuses on the training of instructors and future faculty members.  Statistical analysis will be a required skill although prior experience in statistics isn’t necessary. For undergraduates advanced coursework is not required provided you possess enthusiasm and interest in education-focused research. Freshmen and sophomores have been successful in the group and are encouraged to inquire about open positions.

  1. Crisler II, Glenn B. Cintly Guzman Hernandez, Andre Orr, Roger Davis, Jessie Moore, James Smith, Jac Varco, Tim Schauwecker, Ashli Brown, Todd Mlsna, and Deb Mlsna, (2019) “Phosphate in soils:  An undergraduate exploration of soil texture, chemistry and amendment”, Journal of Chemical Education, accepted for publication.
  2. Perera, Y. Randika, Taylor M. South, Alex C. Hughes, Ashlyn N. Parkhurst, Olivia C. Williams, Mackenzie B. Davidson, Chloe A. Wilks, Debra A. Mlsna, and Nicholas C. Fitzkee, (2019) “Using NMR to Measure Protein Binding Capacity on Gold Nanoparticles, Journal of Chemical Education, accepted for publication.
  3. Perera, Viveka, Baku Acharya, Amanda L. Patrick, and Deb Mlsna, (2019) ”Hands-On Electrospray Ionization-Mass Spectrometry for Undergraduate Biochemistry Students: Peptide Identification by Ladder Sequencing”, Journal of Chemical Education, under review.
  4. Perera, Viveka L., Sarah K. C. Dygert, Andrew F. Jarosz, Deb Mlsna, (2019), “Eye Tracking Studies to Support Student Metacognition with Chemistry Word Problems”, International Journal of Science Education, under review.
  5. Samarasekara Dulani, Todd Mlsna, Deb Mlsna, (2019) “Peer Review and Response: Environmental Chemistry Essay Assignment Design, Perception, and Performance”, Journal of College Science Teaching, under review.
  6. Perera, Viveka L., Tianlan Wei, and Debra A. Mlsna. (2019) "Impact of Peer-Focused Recitation To Enhance Student Success in General Chemistry." Journal of Chemical Education, Jul.3, 2019.
  7. She, J., Mlsna, D. A., Baird, R. E., Mohottige, C. U., & Mlsna, T. E. (2018) “Volatile Metabolomics with Focus on Fungal and Plant Applications-A Review”. Current Metabolomics, 6(3), 157-169.
  8. Rajapaksha, S. M., Gerken, K., Archer, T., Lathan, P., Liyanage, A. S., Mlsna, D., & Mlsna, T. E. (2019). “Extraction and Analysis of Xylitol in Sugar-Free Gum Samples by GC-MS with Direct Aqueous Injection”. Journal of Analytical Methods in Chemistry 2019.
  9. Rajapaksha, S. M., Samarasekara, D., Brown, J. C., Howard, L., Gerken, K., Archer, T., Mlsna, D. (2018). “Determination of Xylitol in Sugar-Free Gum by GC–MS with Direct Aqueous Injection: A Laboratory Experiment for Chemistry Students”. Journal of Chemical Education, 95(11), 2017-2022.
  10. Samarasekara, Dulani, Courtney Hill, and Deb Mlsna. (2018) "Analysis and Identification of Major Organic Acids in Wine and Fruit Juices by Paper Chromatography." Journal of Chemical Education 95.9: 1621-1625.
  11. Mlsna, D.; “American Chemical Society- 2017 Full Year General Chemistry Exam” - Committee member and contributor developing Full Year Exam with ACS Exams Institute-2016-2017.
  12. Karunanayake, Akila G., Sameera R. Gunatilake, Fathima S. Ameer, Manuel Gadogbe, Laura Smith, Deb Mlsna, and Dongmao Zhang. (2015) "Undergraduate Laboratory Experiment Modules for Probing Gold Nanoparticle Interfacial Phenomena." Journal of Chemical Education 92, no. 11: 1924-1927.
  13. Akila G Karunanayake, Narada Bombuwala Dewage, Olivia Adele Todd, Matthew Essandoh, Renel Anderson, Todd Mlsna and Deb Mlsna, (2016) “Salicylic Acid and 4-Nitroaniline Removal from Water Using Magnetic Bio-char: An Environmental & Analytical Experiment for the Undergraduate Laboratory”, Journal of Chemical Education, 93 (11), 1935-1938