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NSF Grant for Laser Ablation System to Support Research

Hampshire College has been awarded a $120,000 National Science Foundation grant for acquisition of a laser ablation chemistry system to support faculty and student research and training. The award is made through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The system — laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) — is used for chemical analysis of trace metals in solid samples such as teeth and rocks. The project principal investigators, Hampshire professors Dula Amarasiriwardena and Alan Goodman, pioneered the early use of LA-ICP-MS in studies of changes in the chemistry of hair and teeth during an individual’s life.

Chemistry professor Amarasiriwardena said the new laser ablation system will support a wide variety of research and training projects, including collaborative projects within the Five College consortium and international collaborations.

To give a few examples of the kinds of work the new laser ablation system will support when installed in spring 2010:

  • Professor Amarasiriwardena will use the instrument in a collaborative study with researchers in Chile investigating potential arsenic and lead exposure in the hair and teeth of the world’s oldest mummies.
  • Professor Goodman, a biological anthropologist and Hampshire’s dean of faculty, is among the world’s leading experts in reading individual life histories from teeth. He collaborates with Amarasiriwardena, an expert in the development of methods to reconstruct the histories of nutrition and movement as recorded in tooth chemistry changes.
  • Amarasiriwardena also collaborates with Professor Baoshan Xing of the University of Massachusetts examining nanoparticle uptake by plants’ roots.
  • And, Hampshire biology professor Lawrence Winship will use the laser ablation system in his work unraveling past pollution occurrences through the examination of tree rings.

Students will benefit from training and hands-on use of the laser ablation system in analytical chemistry, anthropology, environmental science, plant physiology, and geology class projects.

Research conducted using the system will also benefit the general public through analytical advances in identification of past and present toxic trace metal pollution events at contaminated sites.

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