Professor procures grant for lab equipment

Dr. Arthur Sikora, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Physics, has been awarded a $9,490 “Promoting Excellence in Science Education” grant from Pittsburgh Conference Memorial National College Grants Program. LaGrange College provided matching funds of $2,550 for a total of $12,040.

The Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation) and its co-sponsoring technical societies, The Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh and The Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh, administer the grant program designed to help small college science departments with the purchase of scientific equipment, audio-visual or other teaching aids and/or library materials for use in the teaching of science at the undergraduate level.

Dr. Sikora said he intends to use the funds to increase the technological capacity of science labs in the college’s science labs.

“One of the major goals for the science labs is to increase our students’ access to the latest technology,” he said. “Scientists rely on the latest and best tools in order to obtain and reproduce their data. We strive to provide as authentic an experience as possible, starting with first-year general chemistry and continuing across the curriculum. While our lab spaces are state of the art, we do not have a computer lab or set of dedicated science computers.”

The grant will allow the college to equip the chemistry, biology and physics labs with a shared set of laptops that can be used for computer-based laboratory experiments. These computers will allow simulations, thermodynamic calculations, field data collection and other experiments.

“This set of dedicated laptop computers would be portable and allow each group of two in our 16-student labs to have unfettered access to the day’s instrumentation and resources,” he said. “The laptops will be shared between the labs in the chemistry and biology departments.”

He also will be able to purchase sets of wireless instruments for the measurement of temperature, pH, pressure, conductivity, voltage, light and carbon dioxide concentration.

“These analytical sensors will interface wirelessly with the laptop and allow for easy visualization and data analysis,” he said.

Some of the uses of the new equipment will include general chemistry students using light sensors when determining the concentration of “poison” in a drink sample.

“Currently we are limited to visible light but with these new sensors, the students can look at UV and infrared wavelengths and expand their ability to identify compounds,” Dr. Sikora said.

The analytical chemistry lab students would use the voltage and conductivity sensors to track the progress of an electroplating reaction with great precision and better understand the role of electrons in many chemical reactions. In biochemistry, the pH sensors are used in almost every lab and the wireless temperature sensor will enable remote tracking of sample temperature, giving invaluable data for troubleshooting and protocol development.

Beyond chemistry, physics labs would use the pressure sensor to measure gas volume changes in response to temperature changes. A newly developed course, Modern Physics, needs a light monitor to graph light waves intersecting in a double slit experiment and would use the voltage meter to show how magnetism induces voltage in a coil. Botany students will be able to accurately measure CO2 concentrations in their plant growth chambers and determine the optimal growth conditions for native Georgia plants.

“In addition to these existing labs, professors in these and other departments will be able to check out the laptops and instruments to design new innovative labs for their students,” he said. “I’m very excited about this opportunity to further utilize the Hudson Lab Sciences Building infrastructure to provide new and exciting opportunities for our students taking lab.”

Dr. Karen Aubrey, Vice President for Academic Affairs, said grants such as Dr. Sikora’s are imperative in the growth of the college.

“Pursuing grants from sources external to the college is a great way to achieve additional funding for research projects, special programs and equipment,” she said.

“Grant awards not only benefit the faculty member’s own scholarly pursuits, but they directly benefit our students and campus by providing experiences and often partnerships which allow for unique and in-depth experiences.”

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