With a focus on environmental issues important to the state, the Delaware National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR) office has awarded five seed grants to investigators whose projects aim to solve environmental problems in Delaware.
Recipients include Karl Booksh, professor in the University of Delaware's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; Matthew Ginder-Vogel, post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; Holly Michael, assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences; Thomas McKenna of the Delaware Geological Survey; and John Rabolt, professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
“All five projects feature multi-disciplinary collaboration,” said Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Plant and Soil Sciences and EPSCoR principal investigator. “Several also involve inter-institutional partnerships. All of the projects aim to improve Delaware's environment through discovery research.”
A group of UD faculty reviewed 24 proposals and selected the seed grant recipients. “Awardees were chosen based on the quality of the science being proposed, the applicability of the research to state environmental issues and EPSCoR themes, the strength of the collaborations and whether the grantee was a first-time recipient of EPSCoR funding,” said Amy Broadhurst, EPSCoR project administrator.
Developing a 'lab on a chip'
Booksh and Raul Lobo, professor of chemical engineering, are developing a “lab on a chip” sensor platform to monitor air quality for volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOC) and ammonia vapor. The tool can be used for continuous monitoring outside animal feed lots, power plants and other settings where emissions may impact quality of life for workers or local residents.
“I'm very pleased to be selected,” said Booksh. “What I like about this research project is that the research goes beyond academic investigations. The sensor platform should be beneficial in understanding the local distribution and impact of VOC and ammonia in Delaware.”
Booksh and Lobo hope to eventually expand their collaboration to include people running chicken houses and engineers modeling the fate and distribution of VOC in the environment.
Studying air particulates
Ginder-Vogel, Sparks and Murray Johnston, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will work with William Ritter, chairperson of the Department of Bioresources Engineering, and Eric Benson, associate professor of bioresources engineering, to study airborne emissions of particulates from confined animal feeding operations, such as poultry houses, which are a major environmental issue facing the animal industry and regulatory agencies in Delaware.
“The heavy metals that may be contained in particulate matter could pose an environmental risk, especially in light of continued residential development in what were once primarily agricultural areas of the state,” said Ginder-Vogel. “The most important thing that we hope to address is determining if there are heavy metals in particulates. Without this knowledge, it is impossible to accurately determine these particulates' threat to human health.”
The team will employ state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques, including synchrotron-based X-ray absorption spectroscopy, to speciate metals on the particle surfaces.
Ginder-Vogel said the grant will partially fund a graduate student in the chemistry department and a graduate student in plant and soil sciences.
“The research will follow up on a USDA-funded study shared by Drs. Johnston, Ritter and Benson that seeks to intensively sample particulate matter emissions from multiple commercial poultry houses on the Delmarva Peninsula and evaluate the impact of activity in the houses on particulate emissions,” said Ginder-Vogel. “Environmental science has gotten so complex that one person can't be an expert in all the areas required to pursue novel and timely research questions.”
Developing an innovative