Phoenix Feature: Sugeidy Sanchez | Cumberland University

Phoenix Feature: Sugeidy Sanchez

Grade: Senior

Hometown: Murfreesboro, TN

Major/Minor: Biochemistry

What has your experience at CU been like? 

My experience at Cumberland has been amazing. The staff and professors are very much like family. Because the class sizes are small, I’ve had the opportunity to make many friends and get to know my professors better. I know that if I’m struggling academically or have any personal conflicts, I’ll get support from not only my peers, but my professors too. 

What research did you present at the Tennessee Academy of Sciences? 

As part of my Analytical Chemistry class this fall, I wanted to know what made a pepper spicy and the methods to quantify that amount. I asked Dr. Sarah Pierce, the head of the chemistry department at CU, whether we had the equipment necessary to get me going with the project assignment. Turns out, she was also interested in the topic and offered to assist me in the research process. My research topic is the, “Factors that Determine the Amount of Capsaicin in Different Peppers”. Capsaicin is the main active compound that makes a pepper spicy. This organic compound is found inside of the pepper (the placenta). The amount of capsaicin may be extracted using a Solid-Liquid extraction and then running those samples through a machine called UV-VIS spectroscopy. My interest in this topic started with me growing up within the Hispanic culture where our family consumes a lot of chili pepper. We LOVE spicy food. Growing up, my mother told me several things to look for in order to purchase a spicy pepper and 10 years later, I put these to the test. 

The following were my hypothesis:

  1. Does the capsaicin concentration differ between Jalapeño peppers, Serrano peppers, and Cayenne peppers? Does the capsaicin concentration follow the Scoville Heat Unit prediction?
  2. As a pepper ripens and turns orange or red, does the amount of capsaicin increase significantly?

I found that Capsaicin Concentration varies within pepper type and does not match the Scoville Heat scale in its totality. Additionally, color and capsaicin concentration are not directly correlated. 

This research is ongoing until I graduate, so next semester I’ll continue to explore factors that influence the amount of capsaicin in Jalapeño peppers. I plan on planting Jalapeño peppers to see if the amount of water affects pepper production of capsaicin.

This was an opportunity I never thought I would have the pleasure to be part of. If someone would have told me just a few months ago that I would win second place for an oral presentation at TAS, I would have chuckled in disbelief because I knew that the other presenters in the chemistry session were graduate students. I learned to take pride in what I do and to make the most out of my experiences because those are the ones that mold you as a person and student. 

How has CU helped to prepare you for this experience?

My professors have high expectations from their students. Although the bar may be set high, at the end of the day and with hard work, students are able to meet those expectations. My professors have challenged me academically and I will always appreciate that. Their determination to give their students a high-quality education helps me prepare for experiences like this and many more to come. They have shown me that it’s not just about the quality of education one may receive, but also the work and effort the student puts into getting the work done. 

What are your plans post-graduation? 

I plan on applying to medical school next summer. Then, I’ll take a gap year as it is necessary for the process of medical school applications. During that time, I will likely work on a Masters in Public Health if I am not able to shadow or volunteer due to COVID restrictions.