National Science Foundation Awards the University

Sarah Wisniewski, Staff Writer

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $377,595 to the University for the acquisition of a liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometer to enhance undergraduate research and teaching in Chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

The NSF is an independent federal agency that works to promote the progression of science not only in universities but also in the private industry and other development centers. In 2020, the annual budget of the NSF was nearly $8.3 billion. About 78% of that went to fund research at colleges, universities and academic consortia. Of all federally supported basic research conducted at colleges and universities in the United States, the NSF sources about 25% of that funding. 

The University will use its award to fund the cost of the new instrument being brought to campus. 

 A mass spectrometer with liquid chromatography combines the benefits of two methods in order to effectively analyze samples in biological research. The mass spectrometry is a key analytical method utilized for its ability to identify and characterize small quantities of chemical species in complex samples. The other half of the method containing the liquid chromatograph allows mixtures to be initially separated prior to being used in the mass spectrometer. 

With the NSF award, the University will receive a quadruple time-of-flight mass spectrometer equipped with a liquid chromatograph. Having the instrument will further support the research and education of students and faculty in the Chemistry department, but also students studying Chemical and Biological Engineering. 

The new instrument will be housed in the Mendel Science Center and will immediately be utilized by faculty and students in research, and all are excited to use the instrument and observe its beneficial impact on their work.

“It’s the last ‘piece of the puzzle’ for our instrumentation suite, which now benefits from three NSF grants,” Kevin Minbiole, Ph.D., professor and chair of Chemistry, said. “Altogether, it’s a state-of-the-art suite for molecular characterization, supporting a vibrant department with 10 active NSF grants, plus other groups on- and off-campus.”

Its specific use on campus will include developing methods of paint pigment analysis for art conservation, the testing of the effectiveness of the insecticide imidacloprid and its metabolites on the hemlock woolly adelgid, and the impact of these compounds on native pollinators. The instrument will also be used for understanding the process of protein degradation, as well as for elucidating host cell response to gene therapy.

The instrument has been used in research outside of the University in mainly forensics and toxicology screening. Commonly, the liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometer allows for drug screening in clinical settings to improve patient care and guide new treatments. The instrument allows for more extensive data to be recorded in research, including appropriate sensitivity and specificity during clinical interpretation. The specific version of the instrument the University will have available, has been favored in the chemistry and biology field for its ability to cut time and cost in researching. The benefits of the instrument have allowed for challenges of rapidly changing drug landscapes to be resolved in part.