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Posts Tagged ‘science’

Light, Computers, Science!

Talk to Dr. Tom Carroll for just a few minutes about the new high-tech instruments in the third-floor analysis lab in Jephson Science Center and you get the sense the 30-year professor of chemistry at Keuka College is more excited than a kid on Christmas morning.

To the untrained eye, the four new Perkin-Elmer laboratory machines resemble something akin to desktop printer-copiers. But the machines are capable of the kind of data analysis a researcher can use when an unknown substance is handed over with the instructions “find out what this is and report back to me.” With one test on any of these machines, a student researcher could identify in minutes what used to take hours on paper. Carroll is thrilled students – and faculty – can now make regular use of the new equipment.

To biology major Rebecca Evanicki ’14, the new machines enable students to analyze unknown compounds in such a way that it’s like “solving a mystery,” she said.

The HPLC may look like a stack of drawers on a desktop printer, but it can analyze liquids in multiple ways.

Indeed, Associate Professor of Chemistry Andrew Robak is already planning to stage a fake crime scene in the organic chemistry lab next door later this spring. He’ll give the students in his organic chemistry class one day to collect evidence and they’ll spend the last few weeks of the semester in the analysis lab using the new machines to identify every substance, “like a CSI practice version,” he said, referring to the popular TV crime show.

It’s the kind of innovation that brings the student research at Jephson Science Center into a new era of digital learning, which is part of the College’s Long-Range Strategic Plan. Thanks to a $137,000 grant from Jephson Educational Trusts, the new machines were purchased and installed between semesters. They represent significant technology improvements that will enhance science coursework and research for students and faculty.

To formally recognize the new lab capabilities, the College will host its first-ever Innovation Celebration, set for 2-4 p.m., Friday, March 14, which is National Pi Day. In mathematics, Pi (represented by the Greek letter π) begins with the numbers 3.14159 and represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi is infinite and has been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point; contests to recite a portion of those digits are often part of the worldwide celebration. Keuka College will host its own Pi recitation contest, and guests can also take part in an unveiling ceremony, enjoy science-themed refreshments, and browse student work on display. Guided tours through the instrument lab will also be offered, and President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera will give a videotaped message of congratulations.

Check out a unique digital timeline of stories and photos, marking moments of achievement in the College’s science history since the former Millspaugh Science Center was renamed the Jephson Science Center.

The HP-LC with its bottles and tubes.

One machine, the High-Pressure Liquid Chromatograph (HPLC), carries liquids from glass bottles through thin plastic tubes, passing through several compartments for analysis. According to Robak, different compartments contain an oven, vacuum pump, solution tray, and detectors, respectively.

On the tabletop directly across from it sits another machine, the Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer (GC/MS or “GC – Mass Spec”). To put it simply, the GC separates mixtures into individual components, while the “mass spec” identifies separate fragments, so the scientist can determine what the molecules are, Carroll said. In scientific terms, this process is known as ionizing. The GC/MS features a rotating unit that can extract samples from a tray of up to 108 small vials at one time, conducting analysis as programmed by a small touch screen at the side.

A computer connected to the GC/MS, running high-performance software, analyzes in minutes what used to take hours.

Connected to the CG/MS is a new computer running high-performance software that converts the data readings of molecular ions into a bevy of colorful charts and graphs. Based on the peaks and plunges of a fragment’s chart, the computer searches a large digital library to find the closest match – all in a matter of seconds, Evanicki said. Without it, a student would have to calculate results by hand to narrow down what fragments might be present and then cross-check his or her shortlist of possibilities against a book to determine the answer, she said.

On another table against the wall, a smaller machine, the Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR), contains an oval plate with a small diamond reflective element through which infrared light can pass. Connected to another computer running high-speed software, the FTIR is able to provide information about the identity of liquid or solid compounds, Carroll said.

The fourth machine, a Lambda-35, is a newer model of a UV spectrometer already in the lab. It uses visible and ultraviolet light to determine the absorption spectrum of a solution, which will show how much light it absorbs across a range of wavelengths, from visible to UV rays.

Evanicki '14 examines the tray of the GC/MS, which can hold up to 108 vials of solution or compound for analysis.

The GC/MS is Evanicki’s favorite because various tests on multiple samples can be run in one sitting without switching vials in the tray, she said. In addition, a student can run a series of different tests on just one sample.

“There are just so many different things you can do with it,” Evanicki said.

She should know. Evanicki spent the bulk of January alongside biochemistry major Brian DelPino ’14, setting up the new machines, conducting test runs and writing equipment usage manuals, all as part of their senior Field Periods™. Carroll defers to the duo with pride, dubbing their user guides “equipment manuals for dummies.”

“Step One: Turn the machine on,” he read aloud from a sheaf of typewritten instructions, before continuing tongue-in-cheek. “Step Two: If you have any questions or problems, contact Rebecca or Brian.”

On Wednesday, sophomores in Robak’s organic chemistry class took a sneak peek at the new equipment they were due to try out in their Thursday lab. About a dozen other students in Carroll’s Analytical Chemistry course will also run utilize the instrument lab this spring. Enthusiasm is running high, not just for the chance to use the machines this semester, but for the rest of their undergraduate studies.

“We’re all very excited about the new equipment and excited to learn how to use it – science is fun!” said biology major Heidi VanBuskirk ’16.

For more information on the Innovation Celebration, please contact spevents@keuka.edu or call (315) 279-5238.

“Hot” Science Discovery Lands Chem Prof in Fashion Mag

Turn the pages of Tipsy Magazine’s Summer 2013 edition and you’ll find the latest trends in high-fashion nail and manicure art.

The Summer 2013 cover of Tipsy Magazine (Courtesy: Tipsy Magazine)

Tipsy caters to salon owners, manicure artists and nail divas nationwide who turn to the 9×12 glossy for up-to-the-minute articles and photos on polish products, fingertip designs and the edgy nail jewelry that celebs like Lady Gaga have catapulted to fame. Its touted trends take the traditional acrylic manicure (Only one shade of polish? Puh-lease!) to a color-and-jewel-crazed, punk rock-level.

Which is why it should come as no surprise that Dr. Andrew Robak, associate professor of chemistry, has landed in the pages of a Tipsy article. Robak, who holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, has self-described “wacky interests” in chemistry or science as art. His expertise was sought by writer Erin Hart, who started her own design business, Nail Pop LLC, just over a year ago, working on location doing photo shoots, nail parties and fashion shows. Hart endured a nasty chemical burn after she tried to mix fake gold leaf, a decorative metallic, with nail glue to create her own quick-dry polish.

“The gold leaf is so popular right now because it just looks so decadent and when you’re having your nails done, you want to go all out,” said Hart, noting the element comes in either sheets or flake form and can be found at craft or art stores. Hart said she was at home with a friend, experimenting with the fake gold leaf by gluing a big piece to the tip of her finger when “decadent” turned into “drama.”

Tipsy illustration by Jennyfer Maria for the original article. (Courtesy: Tipsy Magazine)

“The burning started immediately and as I was trying to peel away the [gold] leaf, my skin blistered and came off. I didn’t lose too much skin, about the size of an eraser head, but boy did it hurt!” Hart said, adding it reminded her of burning her finger on a marshmallow stick when she was a kid.

“It took about a week for it to heal using your standard first aid burn care.”

Hart’s article, “Burn, Baby, Burn” was illustrated with this image by Jennyfer Maria. (Courtesy: Tipsy Magazine)

According to Hart, staying ahead of the trends in nail art happens most often by experimenting with different materials, so to best inform other nail artists of any potentially dangerous combinations, she packed up the gold leaf and glue and shipped them to Robak for a thorough chemical analysis and explanation. The two are cousins and Hart had no problem asking for a family favor, she said.

“He was the first person I thought to call after I burned myself and I knew he’d be able to figure it out, which he did immediately after receiving the samples I sent,” Hart said. “I was really impressed with how quickly he was able to compose an explanation that I could actually understand.”

It turns out the fake gold leaf flakes are essentially a combination of tin, zinc and shiny copper. The tin and zinc prevent the copper from tarnishing, Robak informed Hart. The nail glue, known as ethyl cyanoacrylate, is a polymer that will cure, or dry rapidly, once exposed to small amounts of moisture in the air or on surfaces. What non-scientists like Hart think of as “glue drying” is really the substance changing from liquid to solid form, Robak said.

Dr. Robak

Ordinarily, a tiny, almost imperceptible amount of heat is released as the glue hardens, but when mixed with the fake gold leaf, the tin and zinc become catalysts, speeding up the process such that there is an excess of heat energy, Hart learned. The gold-glue mixture can’t hold as much heat energy as the liquid glue alone, and not only causes chemical burns but can even produce small tufts of smoke, Robak informed Hart.

So what’s a nail artist to do?

Well, one solution would be to use real gold, Robak suggested, noting the pure element is one of the least reactive substances and won’t require tin to protect it from tarnish. According to the New York Mercantile reported on CNNMoney.com, real gold is currently retailing for about $1,391 an ounce.

If you can’t afford that option but seeing a shiny, metallic gleam at the end of your fingertips is still a must-have, then switching to a simple, clear polish and mixing that with the fake gold leaf will produce the same ritzy look without the Ritz-Carlton price tag. The clear nail polish won’t dry as fast as the glue, but it won’t create an exothermic reaction either, Robak advised.

And that was the advice Hart chose to share with fellow Tipsy readers after she came across a call for submissions for upcoming issues. As it turns out, her unexpected science revelation became her first “big” article for a magazine.

“I’m hoping to do more writing in the future, but I think this first attempt went pretty well,” Hart said, noting she called her cousin for permission to include him in the article. “Most of what you mix with nail glue won’t create an exothermic reaction, but I’ve also experienced heat from nail glue when it comes in contact with cotton fibers. It’s something I’ll need Dr. Robak’s expertise to explain further.”

Hart's hand, all-out bedazzled in current nail art trends. (Courtesy: Nail Pop LLC)

 

Environmentally Sound Engineering

By Mary Leet ’16

When it comes to construction and renovation, especially within cities, it is tempting to do what is fastest and easiest without considering the long-term impact on the environment.

Unless, of course, Lu Engineers, a civil and environmental engineering firm, is involved in the project.

Gina Ferruzza ’14, an environmental science major from Penfield, discovered just how committed the firm is to the environment by conducting a Field Period at their Pittsford office this summer.

“We investigate, identify problems, and then make a plan with a contractor to excavate,” said Steve Campbell, Ferruzza’s supervisor and director of the Environmental Division.

He explained that each site is a commitment the firm takes on, because even post-excavation sites must be continually monitored for many years in case other problems arise.

Campbell’s division assists in areas such as bridge and highway design, natural resource assessment, and site design to optimize the use of safe materials and methods in construction and renovation projects.

Where previous Field Period experiences had Ferruzza working in a lab, she has received “training she can use wherever she goes” as a certified Hazmat transporter, according to Campbell.

“The people here were relaxed and very patient with me as I was learning, and they’re also very funny,” said Ferruzza.

She has compiled data reports, collected and sent samples, and evaluated— with the survey crews— if bridges were built with hazardous materials.

“It’s important to us that our students are here to learn, not making copies,” said Campbell.

At a recent site, Ferruzza helped take soil samples to identify where contamination in groundwater was coming from.

The knowledge Ferruzza has obtained from her work at real sites is something she notices even off the job.

“I was so impressed when we started going to survey sites that Mitch [a coworker from the survey department] could look and see right away that certain materials were present, but now, I can look and see them too,” she said. “Sometimes, when I’m driving with my mom, I’ll look at a truck and know that it contains a flammable liquid.”

With one Field Period requirement left, Ferruzza hopes to return to Lu Engineers in January to hone her new skills at even more sites.

Lights, Camera – Science!

Junior Kat Andonucci and Dr. Andy Robak, associate professor of chemistry (Photo by Erik Holmes '13)

Start with a science lab. Add one chemistry professor with self-described “wacky interests.” Introduce a visual and verbal art major once obsessed with rocks, especially the minerals that glow under ultraviolet light. Mix up a variety of chemistry experiments under special lights and have the student capture them on camera. What do you get?

Droplets of mercury (Photo by Kat Andonucci '14)

The Art of Chemistry, a year-long discovery in pictures of the beauty and form caused –and  sometimes concocted – with a variety of chemical compounds. The art exhibit runs through Sept. 28 in Lightner Gallery inside Lightner Library at Keuka College, where an artist reception will be held from 4:30 – 6 p.m. Thursday, September 20. The gallery is open daily; hours can be found on the main page at: http://lightner.keuka.edu

Robak's hand pours a luminol solution into a narrow glass tube over a 15-second exposure (Photo by Kat Andonucci '14)

Student photographer Kat Andonucci, a junior from Chestertown, near the Lake George region, did a year-long independent study under the guidance of Andy Robak, associate professor of chemistry. With Robak casting the vision and directing her in each experiment, Andonucci crafted the composition, often using a tripod, a remote shutter and a long exposure to create the images. For example, one image of Robak pouring a luminol solution into a narrow-mouth beaker required the shutter remain open for 15 seconds or more to showcase the intense blues and greens of the liquid.

“Everything we did had to be something visually appealing,” explained Andonucci, describing how the independent study served as her chemistry class for the year.

“I’ve owned my camera since ninth grade, and as a side hobby, I did landscapes and outdoor pictures,” Andonucci said, explaining how she entered college as a biology major, thinking she would pursue a career in forensic pathology. But a film photography course in her first semester got her thinking her high school hobby might turn out to be more than just something to do on the side. So she switched her major to visual and verbal art.

Enter Robak, who contacted Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art, last year in search of a student who could help illustrate experiments that would show “the fun side of chemistry.”

Glycerol makes glass objects dipped into it appear to disappear. (Photo by Kat Andonucci '14)

“I’ve always been interested in chemistry as art or science as art. You can see from the pictures that a lot of stuff I work with is really cool,” said Robak, who holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. He rattled off a variety of compounds, from mercury, with its shiny metallic texture that is “really fun to play with,” to flourescein, which turns neon-green when in contact with water, to glycerol, which refracts light in a way that seems to make objects submersed in it disappear. Images of each of those chemicals appear in the exhibit.

“We wanted to treat as a course, the chemistry of things that are neat to look at, to have a clue what they were,” Robak said, pointing out how many science textbooks use photography to illustrate experiments. The two received a $500 grant from Keuka’s Division of Academic Affairs to help cover costs of printing and framing the images.

For her part, Andonucci said she was “excited and nervous” because shooting under such unusual conditions was outside of her comfort zone with natural, outdoor lighting. Indeed, lighting was the biggest challenge as she would sometimes use a window, a lamp, black lights, or would incorporate the light generated from a chemical itself in different images.

Holmes' hand with burning methane gas, a quick-second experiment (Photo by Kat Andonucci '14)

A secondary challenge was the blink-and-miss-it nature of some of the experiments, such as a shot of flames from methane gas bubbles leaping upward from the hand of Erik Holmes, a senior visual and verbal art major.

Andonucci had to be sure to take several shots of each experiment, capturing several on camera by conducting experiments several times in a row. For another image, Robak directed her to bring glycerol, a liquid, into contact with purple potassium permanganate, a solid, which bursts into purple flames and smoke without any introduction of heat, he said.

“Kat worked on that one for a long time. She tried about 20 times and probably took 150 photographs of the same thing in order to get it right,” Robak said. It’s a good thing she shot in digital, because she kept filling up the camera’s memory card every time, he added.

“More than anything, I think she had a really good eye for these sorts of things. She takes a great picture, but out of many, many pictures that she got, she was great at picking out the right ones,” Robak said.

After a year of translating her chemistry class into images, Andonucci said she would be willing to work with Robak again on similar projects. She is considering posting her images online to see if she could market them to companies for commercial use.

Lead, held in Holmes' palm. (Photo by Kat Andonucci '14)

“There’s so much you can do with forensic photography,” she said, adding that she’s “pretty open to anything [with photography], as long as it’s not taking pictures of people.”

Robak managed to convince Holmes to paint a graffiti mural on a concrete wall last year.  The mural illustrated the chemical structure of concrete itself, and Robak said he has ideas for other special projects involving science and other types of art, whether sculpture, painting or more.

Calcium Carbonate under black light. (Photo by Kat Andonucci '14)

“I’ve got too many ideas and not enough artists,” Robak said. “I’m totally looking for more people to rope into these kinds of things.”

Summing up her year-long experiment and the exhibit, Andonucci said “it’s awesome, it’s pretty and it’s cool. I had fun and learned a ton.”

Snapshot of a Graduate: Scott Welch

Where can a Keuka degree take you? This is the fifth in a series of snapshot profiles on members of Keuka’s Class of 2012.

Scott Welch of Palmyra

Scott Welch ’12 graduated magna cum laude with a degree in biochemistry and has been accepted to the doctoral program at St. John Fisher College Wegmans School of Pharmacy.

“The plan is to graduate in four years with my Doctor of Pharmacy,” Welch said.

On a personal level, Welch said he enjoyed Keuka’s beautiful location and the ability to play lacrosse, in part because of the smaller size of the school. Keuka’s men’s lacrosse team went 11-4 this year in Division III play, capturing its second-straight NEAC (North Eastern Athletic Conference) post-season championship. Welch competed all four years with the team as a defender. He was named the Keuka College Senior Male Student-Athlete of the Year (2012) in May for academic achievement, community service, athletic dedication and sportsmanship.

He said he built many friendships with fellow students while attending and also enjoyed the community they formed.

Ultimately, however, “the thing that I valued most at Keuka was the professors and their willingness to go out of their way to help students,” he said.

To explore what might be in your future with a Keuka degree, request more information.

Snapshot of a Graduate: Janelle Davidson

Where can a Keuka degree take you? This is the first in a series of snapshot profiles on members of Keuka’s Class of 2012.

Janelle Davidson of Cortland, N.Y.

Janelle Davidson ’12 graduated summa cum laude with a degree in biology and has been accepted to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., where she will study veterinary medicine this fall. Davidson just received word that a research paper she contributed to with Dr. Bill Brown,  assistant professor of biology and environmental science, was accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. Their study analyzed data from two “no-kill” animal shelters, in New York’s Tompkins and Yates counties, as to whether age, sex, size, breed and coat color of a dog influenced how long it stays at the shelter before adoption.

In her senior year, Davidson won a Judith Oliver Brown scholarship for a Field Period internship in Australia, where she explored exotic wildlife at Tarongo Zoo and visited the University of Melbourne’s veterinary school. She also vaulted over her Keuka classmates in field ornithology, winning top prize – a Swiss Army knife – for correctly identifying the highest number (121) of bird species by sight and song during weekly field labs.

According to Davidson, Keuka’s proximity to her hometown of Cortland, N.Y. and the small size of the campus were very appealing, and she was able to take leadership roles in some campus clubs. However, she said that “the personal attention and encouragement is what I value most about my Keuka education. I was able to benefit from professors actually knowing who I was and what my goals were. When I spoke with professors, they always encouraged me to do my best and pointed out opportunities that would help me along the way.”

To explore what might be in your future with a Keuka degree, request more information.

A Bird in the Hand …

Newborn nestlings (All Photos by Hung Do Le '12)

Like most expectant parents or relatives, the wait for “D-day,” the day of delivery, is a torturous enterprise. But once the little one is safely arrived and nestled down for naps and feedings, the crowing begins.

So it is for the students in Keuka’s ornithology class and Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science, Bill Brown, who have been keeping close watch on several nestboxes Brown placed along the outer perimeter of the campus, near the treeline beyond Davis Hall and the Red Barn Theatre. The nestboxes, which look like simple birdhouses to the untrained eye, are large enough for birds that prefer to live in cavities such as tree trunks to build a nest inside.

The nestbox of the Black-capped chickadees.

It has been a long wait, marred when eight of nine “active” nests of Eastern bluebirds and Black-capped chickadees were destroyed by house wrens and house sparrows, whose habit is to kick out any eggs already laid in a nest in order to take it over and lay eggs of their own. But one chickadee nest escaped the ravages of the migratory menaces, and that nestbox is the ultimate destination for Brown’s class on this, the final day of the outdoor lab for ENV/BIO 331.

Before paying a visit to the home of the new nestlings, the scientific term for baby birds recently hatched, the class stops at one additional box, where a house wren has begun to lay new eggs – three so far – after returning to the area in the last week or so.

Carefully unscrewing one side of the box, Brown reveals the wren’s nest, made primarily of twigs, with soft grasses, bluejay feathers and hair lining the inside. Fishing around with his hand, he pulls out three tiny pink-toned eggs.

Nest and eggs of a tree swallow.

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Learning the Hand, Hands-On

The occupational therapy students pass skeletal hand forms back and forth along the table top counters in the science lab room. Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy Holly Preston quizzes them on the bones, joints and muscles that connect each intricate part of the fingers, thumb, palm and wrist.

As part of Preston’s pop quiz, the students palpate their palms and observe the innate response of their fingers to the change in pressure. In addition to the natural study their own bodies provide for the class – Applied Anatomy – Preston passes out iPads for students to share and instructs them to open up an app called “Muscle and Bone Anatomy 3D.”

Sophomore Caleigh Alterio uses her fingertips to scroll from a muscular view of the body to a 360-degree rotation of the skeleton. Across the table, sophomore Nick Scherer scrolls through a similar screen image on his personal iPad, pointing out how it lets the viewer see multiple layers of muscle and bone, all of which can be rotated in 3-D. The download was just $7, he says.

Nick Scherer works with the iPad app in anatomy class

“It’s so cool just being able to actually see what we’re feeling,” sophomore Mackenzie Berger says as she mimics the movements of the arm, wrist and hand onscreen with her own appendage.

“I didn’t know the answer to [labeling] pictures on the lab exam, so this helps,” adds sophomore Taylor Szwec.  Indeed, the iPad app boasts video and even has an online quiz feature that Preston encourages students to work through. (more…)

Eyes (and Ears) Wide Open

Senior Jason Troutman references a list of bird species in Keuka's ornithology field lab, taught by Dr. Bill Brown, at right. (All photos by Brett Williams).

Bundled warm in hoodies against the morning chill at Keuka Lake State Park, the students are standing still, listening intently. From the branches of trees nearby come chirps, calls and sing-song melodies, rising over the sound of the waves lapping the shore.

“What do you hear?” asks Bill Brown, assistant professor of biology and environmental science, who holds a Ph.D. and specializes in ornithology, the study of birds. Binoculars hang suspended from the students’ necks, but Brown wants them to listen first.

Seniors Steve Stout and Justin Henry record bird species they've identified during an outdoor field lab.

Pencils poised over palm-size waterproof notepads, the handful of students lower their heads and jot down four-letter codes for different species as they respond with the names: Mourning dove. American robin. Cardinal. Canada goose. Carolina wren. Downy woodpecker. [Eastern] Pheobe. House finch.

This is ENV/BIO 331, Keuka’s ornithology class, where one of Brown’s primary objectives is teaching students to master identification of some 104 different species of birds by sight. Thirty-nine of those species must also be identified by sound. And those are just the birds found here in New York state.

According to Brown, almost 90 percent of “birding” is done by ear; the rest comes from knowing what to expect in a given setting, whether that may be a small cluster of trees near a building, along a road, or deep in a forest fragment. (more…)

Down Under with the Animals

Not just any old zoo will do. Nope. Janelle Davidson headed halfway ‘round the world to get an up-close-and-personal look at the kangaroos, wallabies, and other exotic animals at Sydney Wildlife World in Australia this month.

The Cortland resident was set to endure 20 hours of travel time before arriving in Australia just after the New Year’s holiday for a short-term tour of the country and its exotic wildlife. A senior biology major, Davidson was eager to get started on this, her first trip outside the continental U.S. She also planned to visit the University of Melbourne’s veterinary school to compare and contrast what those Down Under learn about animal diseases and care-taking.

“My hope with this Field Period is to see what it’s like working with those exotic, almost-extinct animals, and decide [a focus on small or large animals] by the time I go off to vet school in the fall,” said Davidson, who is interested in a veterinary career. “Right now, I have the most experience with small animals, but I’m really interested in zoo animals, such as tigers, lions, koalas, kangaroos – not ones that everybody gets to work with.”
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