Marshall University scientist receives National Science Foundation grant for laboratory equipment

Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – A Marshall University scientist has received a $338,845 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to fund high-end laboratory equipment that will be used by researchers and students in biochemistry, chemistry and physics.

Photo of Dr. Derrick KollingThe grant to Dr. Derrick Kolling, assistant professor of chemistry, along with colleagues at Marshall and the University of Charleston, was awarded competitively through the NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation program. Kolling will use the funds to purchase a device called an electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectrometer. The equipment will be housed in Kolling’s lab at Marshall.

According to Kolling, the spectrometer incorporates a powerful magnet and a source of microwaves to observe unpaired electrons—many of which are known as free radicals.

“The real power of this instrument lies in the fact that it can identify free radicals and map their surroundings,” he said. “Free radicals play a vital role in a number of chemical processes, including control over blood pressure and the underlying chemistry of photosynthesis, among many others.”

He added that EPR spectroscopy is also useful in understanding the electronic organization of many metal compounds.

Kolling says he and colleagues will use the new equipment to enhance their ongoing research projects to improve alternative energy production, help detect environmental toxins and chemical and biological threats, design more efficient semiconductors and safer radioactive waste disposal systems, and further the medical community’s understanding of the disease atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries.”

He said, “At least five of our faculty members in three departments will be using this device in their research right away. Just as importantly, it will immediately benefit our students. Studies show that student interest in science is enhanced by their use of high-end equipment. Generating and measuring samples on this spectroscope is an opportunity that few undergraduate students get. Through the hands-on experience they gain here, they will become better trained and more scientifically sophisticated.”

He added that the University of Charleston collaborated on the grant proposal and at least one of that institution’s faculty members will be using the instrument in his research. The UC faculty member also will travel to Marshall’s Huntington campus to perform measurements on his students’ lab samples, bringing students with him as funds allow.

Kolling noted that the nearest EPR spectrometer is currently located several hours from Marshall.

“The drive alone creates a significant hurdle,” he said. “The complication of transporting temperature-sensitive materials, along with the loss of at least a day due to travel, significantly hampers our research. We are looking forward to having the equipment here, where we can have ready access.”

Dr. Charles Somerville, dean of Marshall’s College of Science, praised Kolling’s efforts to secure the grant, saying there are also benefits from the synergistic effect of having the device.

Somerville said, “The availability of this equipment will bring together faculty from different departments and different institutions with greater frequency, increasing the likelihood that collaborations will develop. These collaborative interactions are good news for the region’s entire scientific community.”

Dr. John Maher, Marshall’s vice president for research, said the equipment will provide a tremendous boost to the university’s research infrastructure and educational programs.

“With the growing emphasis on interdisciplinary research, it is important that we continue to add tools that can be used in a broad range of studies,” Maher added. “Having access to instrumentation like this spectrometer is becoming vital not only for performing cutting-edge research but also for training the next generation of scientists. Congratulations to Dr. Kolling and his co-investigators for this significant award. We applaud the immense effort and teamwork that produced it.”

Kolling’s co-investigators on the grant included Dr. Michael Castellani, professor and chairman of Marshall’s Department of Chemistry; Dr. Michael Norton, professor of chemistry and director of the university’s Molecular and Biological Imaging Center; Dr. Nalini Santanam, associate professor of pharmacology and coordinator of the cardiovascular, obesity and diabetes research cluster at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine; and Dr. Xiaoping Sun, associate professor and coordinator of the chemistry program at the University of Charleston. Kolling added that Drs. Xiaojuan Fan and Maria Babiuc-Hamilton, assistant professors of physics, also contributed to the grant proposal by suggesting the use of the EPR spectrometer in the development of new semiconductors and in physics teaching laboratories, respectively.

Contact:  Ginny Painter, Communications Director, Marshall University Research Corporation, 304.746.1964