New Instrument Funded by NSF Expands Environmental and Ecosystems-Level Research at Villanova University

Nathaniel Weston, right, directs Juliette Foley, left, on using the spectrometer.

Whether they are analyzing heavy metal contamination in waters impacted by hydraulic fracking or monitoring atmospheric air pollution in Philadelphia, Villanova faculty and students are pursuing innovative environmental and ecosystems-level research—and the research capabilities are expanding.

The National Science Foundation has awarded Villanova University a Major Research Instrumentation grant for an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer. Nathaniel Weston, PhD, Steven Goldsmith, PhD, and Melanie Vile, PhD, from the Department of Geography and the Environment, as well as R. Kelman Wieder, PhD, from the Department of Biology submitted the grant proposal.

This cutting-edge instrument significantly expands research capabilities among an interdisciplinary group faculty from the Departments of Geography and the Environment, Biology and Chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering. It can detect metals and several non-metals in an array of liquid or solid samples at exceptionally low concentrations—enabling researchers to measure a broad suite of elements very accurately in the samples they gather.

“The new spectrometer allows our environmental researchers the opportunity to address many questions related to environmental conservation and protection,” said Barry Selinsky, associate dean for Research and Faculty Development and professor of Chemistry. “It is an exciting new addition to the arsenal of sophisticated instrumentation used by our students and faculty.”

The instrument will enhance ongoing, externally-funded research for faculty including Samantha Chapman, PhD, Biology, pursuing NSF funded research on wetland protection; Lisa Rodrigues, PhD, Geography and the Environment, doing research in coral conservation and management, also funded by the NSF; and Dr. Goldsmith studying hydraulic fracking’s impact on local water quality.

In addition to existing projects, the instrument further supports Villanova’s teacher-scholar model, promoting undergraduate and graduate research alongside renowned professors. Several undergraduate courses have made use of the system in the classroom, exposing the next the generation of Villanova scientists to cutting-edge research and instrumentation.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.