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WIU Awarded Grant to Purchase Mass Spectrometer

August 13, 2018

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MACOMB, IL – For the second time in the last 10 months, Western Illinois University has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to boost the laboratory capabilities for students across academic majors.

On July 30, the University was awarded a nearly $300,000 grant to buy a liquid chromatograph mass spectrometer to benefit academic research and educational programs in major areas, including forensic chemistry, chemistry, biology and agriculture. The grant application was made in collaboration with faculty from Monmouth College, Quincy University, Bradley University and Illinois College, and students from those schools will have access to the mass spectrometer for their academic work and research.

The instrument will be housed in Currens Hall, room 311, under the direction of WIU Assistant Professor of Forensic Chemistry Liguo Song. In addition, the Western Illinois Mass Spectrometer Center will be created to coordinate training sessions, research activities, hands-on laboratory experiments, summer workshops, outreach activities and dissemination of research results.

"The mass spectrometer weighs molecules and helps us identify them by weight," said Song. "We are excited about this award because it recognizes our research capabilities and how important the new equipment is to our programs. The mass spectrometer is recognized by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) and the American Chemical Society (ACS) as an essential instrument to achieving accreditation."

The University previously had a low-resolution mass spectrometer; however, it was deemed unrepairable in 2015. The new machine is a high-resolution version with the capability of tandem mass spectrometry, which will help achieve more detailed and accurate results.

Prior to the grant award, WIU faculty and students who needed the aid of the mass spectrometer had to travel to other universities to complete their testing.

"This will impact the whole western Illinois region, not just WIU," said Song. "It will also have broader research implications in collaborations we have with organizations like the Illinois State Police and the Illinois Soybean Association."

Now that the three-year award has been announced, Song said the University will seek bids for the machine purchase. He hopes the machine will arrive on campus during Spring Break 2019.

"Then we will have the whole summer to work with it," he said. 'This is so very useful to our faculty and students and the faculty and students at our partner institutions. It really was a team effort with the college, the department and the other universities."

Song anticipates 16 faculty and their students will use the mass spectrometer in their research. The major program to use the instrument is the B.S. Forensic Chemistry program at WIU. The equipment will give students an enhanced ability to analyze physical evidence, such as illicit drugs, toxicological specimens and accelerants in arson investigations.

The equipment addition is also in keeping with WIU's strategic plan, which commits to research and scholarly/creative activities, which engage students and faculty. It will also help with the College of Arts and Sciences' outreach into the region to both attract students to WIU and interest younger generations in sciences.

In September 2017, WIU was awarded a $330,000 NSF grant to purchase a scanning electron microscope for campus. The microscope is also being installed in Currens Hall and will present new opportunities to WIU faculty and students.

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