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
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
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