A $125,000 grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust has allowed the Estelle Siebens Science Center at Buena Vista University to make some much-needed equipment upgrades.
The addition of a brand new nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscope (NMR) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometer (GC-MS) now enables students and faculty to expand and improve research methods and help prepare students for careers in the biology and chemistry fields.
“We had an NMR from the 1980s, but it didn’t interface with any computer, and it was not very user friendly. The new one will be so much easier to use, and students will be able to utilize it on their own,” says Dr. Melanie Hauser, assistant professor of chemistry. “Similarly, the GC we had was also very dated. Now it has the mass spectrometer, which makes it a lot more versatile in use. Both of these new devices will make us more competitive with other universities and improve our research on multiple levels.”
The NMR works much like an MRI machine at a hospital, except it’s used on small chemicals instead of the human body. Different nuclei and atoms have different magnetic systems, so they react differently to a magnetic field. The NMR serves as a giant magnet.
The GC-MS takes samples with multiple components and separates them by vaporization. Once separated, the mass spectrometer then detects the type and amount of a specific chemical present according to a pre-determined mass.
“Exposure to this equipment will help our students who go on to work in the industry,” Hauser says. “It also helps them take what they’re reading in their textbooks and explore it in a hands-on manner. They can see how it works and not just learn it in theory.”
The new GC-MS is also likely to offer cost savings by replacing the need to purchase environmental ELISA kits, which can cost from $300-$700 each.
“We’ve been writing grants to purchase ELISA Immunoassay kits for environmental pollution assessment projects, and with the GC, this will no longer be necessary,” says Dr. Melinda Coogan, assistant professor of biology. “We are planning on using ELISA kits that were purchased for the summer 2012 Mississippi River Basin Grant project, but students will now supplement the assessments with side-by-side GC analyses to compare the results.”
Coogan is looking forward to watching students work with the equipment in a number of settings. For example, the environmental chemistry class will be able to use the GC-MS for environmental assessments as a way of gathering crucial information about aquatic pollution.
“We’ll be able to extract lipids from algae, snails and other organisms and then run them to see the quantity of the chemicals present, which helps determine whether the chemicals are bioaccumulating,” Coogan says. “We’ll be able to apply that information to the food chain and see how it affects the whole process. These instruments are valuable because their detection limits allow us to investigate lower chemical concentrations than we have historically been able to assess.”
The Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust is a philanthropic foundation in Iowa with assets of more than $250 million and annual grant distributions of over $12 million. It was created through the will of Roy J. Carver, a Muscatine industrialist and philanthropist, who died in 1981.
In 2006, BVU also received a $130,000 grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust to implement a post-doctoral science education program.