BHSU receives $600,000 grant from National Science Foundation to develop sophisticated ICP-MS lab on Spearfish campus

Author: BHSU Communications/Thursday, October 2, 2014/Categories: 2014

           Brianna Mount, assistant professor of research at BHSU, leads a discussion during a physics open house at the University. Mount secured a $600,000 National Science Foundation grant that will enhance laboratory facilities at Black Hills State University and increase student involvement in large-scale Sanford Underground Lab projects.

A $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will enhance laboratory facilities at Black Hills State University and increase student involvement in large-scale Sanford Underground Lab projects.

BHSU President Dr. Tom Jackson, Jr., praised the science faculty for their work in securing this significant grant that will fund state-of-the art laboratory equipment and strengthen students&rsquo research opportunities. He noted that the University has a strong and growing science department, due in part to its proximity to the Sanford Lab.

"The BHSU School of Natural Sciences continues to grow. Our students work with state-of-the-art equipment and conduct research that receives national recognition," Jackson said. "Where else can students conduct this kind of deep underground research within less than 20 miles from the unique Sanford Lab?"

The grant will enable BHSU to purchase an Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS) to detect radioactive contaminants in materials used in the construction of large underground experiments at the Sanford Lab in Lead as well as other underground facilities around the world. The ICP-MS will further research BHSU is already conducting at the Sanford Lab as it can quickly detect ultra-trace amounts of contaminants such as uranium and thorium.

The new ICP-MS lab will be located in newly-renovated Jonas Science Hall on the BHSU campus.

The BHSU ICP-MS will be able to directly analyze solid samples, as opposed to digesting them in acid first, through its laser ablation capabilities. The ability to directly analyze a solid sample is not only a time saver, but it is also a great tool for geologists who will use the equipment.  

According to Dr. Rod Custer, provost and vice president for academic affairs at BHSU, the new ICP-MS lab will be an extension of BHSU&rsquos research efforts at the Sanford Lab. The University is also moving forward with construction on the BHSU Underground Campus, a cleanroom facility and adjoining workspace that will be managed by BHSU staff working closely with officials at the Sanford Lab. That facility will open in the summer of 2015.

In addition to purchasing the ICP-MS system, the NSF grant will allow BHSU to buy essential supplies for the lab and to hire a technician to operate the system and prepare samples. According to Dr. Brianna Mount, research assistant professor at BHSU, detailed sample preparation facilities are a necessity.

Instruction on sample preparation and the use of the ICP-MS will be implemented into several science courses at BHSU, increasing hands-on experiments for students.

"Almost more important than the ICP-MS is the sample preparation. Each step must be carefully monitored. Even the beaker you pour samples into makes a difference," Mount said.

The lab is expected to be complete by the fall of 2015. Once it&rsquos finished, Mount said it will be used by several science disciplines at BHSU including chemistry and geology.

"This equipment will make the analysis of trace level elements much easier at BHSU. Our students get the opportunity to work with instrumentation that most universities cannot offer," said Dr. Daniel Asunskis, assistant professor of chemistry at BHSU.

Asunskis will use the ICP-MS for a variety of research, one including examining the nanomaterial toxicity in liver cells, a project that was recently funded through the South Dakota Board of Regents. Physicists, chemists and geologists at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and SDSM&ampT will have access to the equipment as well.

"So not only does this system strengthen our ties to the Sanford Lab, it strengthens ties among scientists at BHSU, the University of South Dakota and South Dakota School of Mines &amp Technology," Mount said.

This is the second major NSF grant announcement for BHSU. In September, the University released details about a NSF grant that will be used to increase and enhance computer science learning opportunities for kindergarten-12th grade students in the Black Hills region.


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