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Chemistry students have access to industry leading instrumentation for undergraduate research

Chemistry students have access to industry leading instrumentation for undergraduate research

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Through a grant and major gift, FLC science majors will now be using some of the best chemistry instrumentation in the industry. This summer, the FLC Chemistry Department received nearly $1 million in new instruments for chemical analysis.

Hands-on research with premier instrumentation is a major component to an FLC science education, whereas traditionally this type of access is largely restricted to graduate students or industry experts. FLC science majors’ unfettered access gives them a competitive advantage over their job-seeking peers because of their fluency with the instruments. 

“We think it’s important to incorporate what the students would see in industry and academia,” says Kenny Miller, professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry. “If you’re a science major at a large state university, it’s likely that you would never use an instrument like this, but here the plan we put together for our instruments includes seven classes and also any extracurricular research.”

Miller was awarded $321,000 from the National Science Foundation for the purchase of a new Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer (NMR). Miller plans to incorporate the NMR into 200-400 level courses and estimates that during its expected 15- to 20-year lifetime, the NMR will be used by at least 5,000 undergraduate students at FLC.

The NMR will be used by students to check chemical structures and reaction outcomes. Simply put by Miller, “did we make what we expected to make?” Any synthesized molecule created in a lab at FLC can be certified in the NMR.

Callie Cole, assistant professor of Analytical Chemistry, received $511,661 in-kind contribution from Agilent Technologies for a new Liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC/MS) System. The instrument allows researchers to separate out complex mixtures and isolate molecules in a liquid sample.

This is the second gift to FLC from Agilent. Cole said the LC/MS gift is one-of-a-kind in that FLC has never had an instrument like it before, nor has she heard of another university receiving such a gift.

“Agilent realizes the impact these instruments have on our undergraduate students at an institution as rural and diverse as ours,” says Cole.

Both instruments will be in place for use this academic year. Students from all science majors, Biology, Chemistry, Geosciences, Environmental Science, even Physics and Engineering, will be able to conduct wide-ranging experiments. Food quality analysis, environmental analysis, and biological analysis are just a few areas where students will get hands-on research. The two instruments together will allow students to identify both known compounds and identify new species that have never been observed before, elevating their undergraduate experience and jumpstarting their field expertise.

“Time and again, we’re providing to FLC students comparable research experience to larger universities, but in more personal and less restricted ways,” says Miller. 

"Students will be so well-trained on these instruments. It’s one thing to get 30 minutes with one of these instruments and another to have regular access to be able to design and write a senior research project. They’ll have a competitive advantage right when they’re applying for jobs or a graduate program."

CALLIE COLE

“Students will be so well-trained on these instruments,” added Cole. “It’s one thing to get 30 minutes with one of these instruments and another to have regular access to be able to design and write a senior research project. They’ll have a competitive advantage right when they’re applying for jobs or a graduate program.”

Miller and Cole will also both conduct research using the new instruments, Miller’s specialty being organic synthesis and Cole’s being quantitative analysis. At FLC where education is especially student-centered, Cole emphasized that all faculty research is student research.

“It’s students that are gathering data and we’re all interpreting it together,” says Cole. “By the time our students are seniors they feel more like colleagues and collaborators.”

And the collaboration is not confined to FLC faculty and students. San Juan College students will also have access to the instruments, and Cole has also been partnering with local businesses chemically profiling their products.

“Having access to these instruments is also about increasing partnerships and bringing that data out into the community, too,” says Cole.

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