A Publication for the faculty, staff, administrators and friends of California State University, Chico
November 11, 2004 Volume 35/Number 3

Page One Stories


University: 7Bugs: 0

The faculty and students of the College of Natural Sciences are ecstatic (if such an adjective can be applied to scientists) about a $14,000 donation from a local business for a Fourier-Transform Infra-Red spectrophotometer that will be used for classroom projects and research.

Brian Pierce, CEO of Advanced Light Technologies, made the donation as part of a 7-year, ongoing relationship between his company and the University. Advanced Light has funded research projects that involve students and faculty from the departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry, and Physics to explore the uses of various forms of light, including infrared light, to accomplish a variety of processes, including killing bugs, disinfecting food items, and processing agricultural products.

Since 1997, Advanced Light projects have involved 12 students in the areas of chemistry, biology, physics, mechatronic engineering, microbiology, and nutrition science. Professors Larry Kirk, Randy Miller, and Jim Postma from Chemistry, Professor Chuck Chau from Physics, and Professors Larry Hanne and Sam Beattie from Biological Sciences have advised and mentored these students.

The spectrophotometer explores interactions of light with matter. Chemists will use the spectrophotometer to probe the individual bonds that make up a molecule to distinguish molecules from one another by their unique pattern of light absorption. These “optical fingerprints” allow chemists to uniquely identify molecules, such as legal and illegal drugs, or help elucidate the structure of a newly synthesized molecule, such as a new pharmaceutical. Advanced Light is interested in cases where the bug absorbs light energy and the plant does not, such as a red bug sitting on a green plant. (In this case, the bug is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green, whereas the leaf is green because it absorbs the red and reflects the green light.)

Besides agriculture, there are potential applications in polymer sterilization, including those used in medical contexts. Advanced Light has ideas for applications in medical treatments and bio-terrorism responses.

The University is the big winner with this donation (and ongoing projects) because it provides: (1) needed revenue at a time when state resources are diminishing; (2) a modern, full-featured instrument used by hundreds of students each year; (3) a faster instrument to save time and avoid tedious laboratory measurements; (4) interesting projects to challenge the creativity of faculty and students; (5) practical experience for students and the potential of well-paying jobs; (6) potential replacements for harmful pesticide chemicals, especially methyl bromide, a notorious ozone-depleting chemical; and (7) enthusiastic support from those outside the University (besides Advanced Light, Sunsweet Foods, Blue Diamond, and several other companies are involved).

The only group losing in this deal is the bugs.

—Jim Postma, Chemistry



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