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Well-equipped

Bren Tooley
09/24/2010
From left, assistant professor of chemistry Brad Sturgeon, lab coordinator Steve Distin and Adam Keil, senior scientist for ICx Technologies, show off the GC/MS that was installed at Monmouth College earlier in the day.
Monmouth College recently authorized the purchase of $225,000 worth of new science equipment to enhance and expand educational and research opportunities in biology, chemistry, physics, physical education, mathematics and computer science.

Purchases include a GC mass spectrometer, a radiation shield, a hand-held photosynthesis meter and a high-speed color digital camera, as well as smaller accessories and pieces of equipment.

Associate professor of biology Tim Tibbetts said that his department will soon be in possession of the photosynthesis meter, which will allow faculty and students to measure the rate of photosynthesis in the field.

Colleen Zumpf, a senior environmental science major from Frankfort, will use the new equipment to measure photosynthetic rates on plum trees receiving an organic fertilizer versus a control group of plums at the college’s LeSuer Nature Preserve, thus testing claims made by the fertilizer company. It will also be used in Tibbetts’ research on the physiology of invasive plant species and in classes to demonstrate the effects of light wavelengths on photosynthetic rates.

Michael Sostarecz, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science, said the high-speed camera will benefit students across the sciences. For example, Henry Schmidt of Johnsburg and Rodney Clayton of Plano, who are both physics majors and mathematics minors, recently built a vacuum-induced ping pong ball launcher capable of speeds of 600 feet per second. With the new camera, they will be able to compare their theoretical results with velocity and acceleration data.

Sostarecz said the “way cool” camera is able to take 1,000 images per second at full resolution and more than 150,000 frames per second if the resolution is reduced. The data from the camera will be used in several of Sostarecz’s classes, as well as in student-faculty research projects. It will also be used by physical education students explore the biomechanics of sports.

“Physics and math majors will be able to connect their academic disciplines with their athletic interests,” said Sostarecz. One such possibility could involve Clayton, the reigning Midwest Conference men’s golf champion.

The chemistry department will receive a gas chromatography (GC) with mass spectrometry (MS) detector (familiarly known as the GC/MS), a piece of equipment that will open many research doors for students and faculty.

“This new instrument will be a very welcome addition to our department,” said assistant professor of chemistry Brad Sturgeon. “Most colleges our size have a GC/MS.”

The GC/MS will analyze both liquid and gas samples. For example, if a chemical (or drug) were placed in a drink, students could analyze the sample and identify the compound. Students could test a $100 bill, washing it with a small amount of ethanol and analyzing the wash to detect substances on its surface. Also, using the instrument’s gas sampling port, students will be able to analyze the chemical compounds responsible for odors from foods and perfumes. The GC/MS is the device that often first appears in research sequences on the television show “CSI” as the characters seek to identify chemical substances.

David Timmerman, dean of the faculty, was impressed that the faculty in the science departments worked together to determine the best use of funds.

“They didn’t simply divide up the funds,” he said. “They talked about what would be most beneficial. It was definitely a collaborate process … We were looking at equipment that would be easily portable to the new facility (the proposed center for the sciences and business) to further strengthen the work of faculty and students in science education.”

The physics department will soon receive the concrete bricks and borated high density polyethylene sheets required to build a concrete shield to enclose the department’s neutron generator. This shield will protect students and the public from exposure to radiation, enabling students and faculty to safely conduct a wide array of experiments.

The department has also purchased a portable neutron monitor, which enables students and faculty to measure the exposure to neutrons. A second piece of equipment, the portable scintillator, measures the exposure to gamma and X-rays. Both provide necessary safety features in the lab and enable faculty and students to engage in experiments related to radiation exposure and shielding.

The department has also purchased digital neutron and gamma sensitive dosimeters, which will be are worn by anyone who comes into the physics lab, providing a real-time measurement of the radiation dose the individual is receiving. Faculty and students can also use them to measure exposure to radiation in a wide range of experiments.

“This equipment is all about building a safe lab and doing interesting and substantive experiments in it,” explained physics professor Chris Fasano.