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Large Instrumentation Grant Will Aid Research on Human Health and Environmental Issues

Duquesne University recently received the largest grant for scientific instruments in its history—a $572,000-plus award from the National Science Foundation that will allow professors and students in the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences to measure the mass of ions. In the last year, the University received $13.2 million in external funding from government, foundation and corporate funding for research.

The new grant, which was awarded in July, will provide Duquesne’s laboratories with access to a tandem mass spectrometer. This major piece of equipment, which can be used in conjunction with the nuclear magnetic resonance machine, time-of-flight mass spectrometer and X-ray crystallography, will provide a scope of instrumentation and exacting measurements typically found at research-intensive universities, said Dr. Mitchell Johnson, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and principal investigator on the grant.

The spectrometer, Johnson said, will take the lab’s accuracy to a new level, allowing professors and students to work more quickly and in more detail because of a smaller sample size and heightened sensitivity of equipment.

“It means we can measure how much of any compound is in just about any material,” Johnson said. “The new equipment has the sensitivity to work with very small samples, and that’s beneficial because many of our samples are small. Also, reagents can be expensive, and using small amounts of material can cut that cost and minimize waste on a significant scale.”

Co-principal investigators for the grant include Dr. Jana Patton-Vogt, associate professor of biology; Dr. Partha Basu, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry; and Dr. H.M. “Skip” Kingston, professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

“This grant will provide for the sensitivity in measurements that will enable our students and professors to move forward in top-level basic science research,” said Dean David Seybert of the Bayer School. “Acquiring this instrument will allow our research to push forward on many interdisciplinary fronts by coupling the spectrometer’s ability with the capabilities of other tools already at the University.”

For instance, Johnson and Patton-Vogt will work to identify fat molecules and to trace metabolic changes in these molecules, particularly in mental disorders.

“Lipids can act like a messenger in the cell,” Johnson said. “When the messenger is disabled, there are implications for mental health. There also are implications for children; one of the Sudden Infant Death Syndromes is associated with a metabolism disorder of fatty acids.”

In addition, Basu and Kingston will use the new instrument to measure proteins and environmental samples.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.