30 May, 2000

Contact: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456; mstepanovich@csub.edu

California State University, Bakersfield has been awarded a $200,000 grant from the Defense Department to buy an Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometer and a Laser Ablation System.


Three professors, Dirk Baron, Bob Horton, both from the geology department, and Roy LaFever, from the chemistry department, submitted the grant proposal which was competitively selected from 130 submitted. CSUB received the grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for the spectrometer, which can measure elemental compositions of both liquid and solid samples down to parts per trillion levels for most of the periodic table. The state-of-the-art spectrometer has wide ranging applications in the earth sciences as well as the physical and biological sciences and archaeology.

The DOD awarded only 31 grants out of more than 130 proposals through their "Historically Black and Minority Institutions Infrastructure Support Program." The grants will enhance programs and capabilities at the institutions in scientific disciplines. Since 1992 the program has provided more than $111 million to minority-serving institutions for program enhancements in science, engineering and mathematics

"This is the single most versatile instrument we will have to tell element abundances," said Rob Negrini, geology professor and chair of the CSUB geology department.

Negrini said the spectrometer has a wide variety of uses. "If you want to know how much iron or copper a substance has, it can tell you. It works for solids and liquids. Archaeologists have used it to figure out old trade routes. We can determine which volcano old volcanic ash came from. It's a wonderfully diverse instrument.

"It's a fairly new instrument that even major universities are only now starting to acquire," he continued. "It will give us a real edge. It will be the workhorse of all geology departments for the next 10 years."

Baron, the principal investigator for the proposal, whose specialties are geochemistry and hydrology, or the study of water, said, "The spectrometer can analyze any solid or liquid sample and break it down to the parts per trillion level. The laser ablation system extends these capabilities to solid samples. It's still fairly new technology. The first commercial instruments became available only about 10 or 12 years ago."

Baron said he wants to use the spectrometer to "look at trace elements in natural and contaminated waters. You can learn a lot about the history of a particular groundwater sample. You can fingerprint different types of water. It's something you can't do by other means.

"We will also be able to look at the distribution of some of the toxic trace elements like arsenic, selenium or uranium that are of concern in soils and groundwater in the southern San Joaquin Valley."

The spectrometer will have a number of uses in the different sciences, Baron and Negrini said. Other applications include chemistry, anthropology, archaeology and biology.

The instrument is fairly easy to use, Baron said, adding that students will be using it for research and classroom work. "The training they receive on the spectrometer will be beneficial and provide them an advantage once they graduate and are applying for jobs," he said.

The department also anticipates that different organizations and companies within the community will want to use the spectrometer. In fact, Baron said, scientists at China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center have expressed an interest in using the instrument.

"Daniel C. Harris and Michael D. Seltzer from the Chemistry and Materials Division at China Lake are interested in using the ... facility at CSUB for their materials research and working with our students," Baron said.

"One of their applications is the failure analysis of metals and composites. Our instrument would be used to examine areas close to a failure for compositional heterogeneities that might be related to the failure. Another application that they are interested in is the non-destructive analysis of ceramics and other non-conductive materials. One current example for this type of work is the analysis of dopants in synthetic sapphires."

For more information about the spectrometer or CSUB's science programs, please call Negrini at 661/664-2185.