Dr. Mohammed Baalousha (principal investigator), associate professor in environmental nanoscience, and Dr. Eric Vejerano (co- principal investigator), assistant professor in environmental nanoscience, within the SmartState Center for Environmental Nanoscience and Risk (CENR) and the environmental health sciences department of the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, have been awarded nearly one million dollars from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation Program.
This NSF funding program supports the acquisition or development of a multi-user research instrument that is otherwise too costly or not supported by other NSF programs. Its aim is to enable institutions of higher education and not-for-profit scientific/engineering research organizations to procure research instrumentation that is critical to advances in fundamental science and engineering research. Additional benefits include capacity building to develop the next-generation of research instruments and the opportunity to train students with the instrumentation. These individuals will use their knowledge to become the next generation of scientists, designers and builders of future instrumentation.
Dr. Baalousha, Dr. Vejerano and colleagues will use the grant to purchase a time-of-flight inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometer — the first of its kind to be installed in the United States. The instrument can measure all elements in the periodic table every 30 microseconds, allowing simultaneous measurement of multi-elements in transient signals such as single particles.
[Photo: Dr. Mohammed Baalousha]
The researchers will use their new research instrument for a diverse set of applications. For example, it will allow them to examine both naturally-occurring and engineered nanoparticles to better understand their properties, environmental behaviors and functions, and environmental and human health implications.
“This instrument will help us to differentiate engineered from natural nanoparticles in complex environmental samples, on a particle-per-particle basis, one of the key challenges in environmental nanotechnology field, for which I was awarded my NSF-CAREER award in 2016,” says Dr. Baalousha. “We have made significant progress on solving this challenge, and this instrument will make our task a lot easier.”
“The accurate measurements of the nature and elemental composition of atmospheric particles have been limited because we cannot measure them in their native form as they exist in the atmosphere or emitted from their sources with our current instrumentation,” says Dr. Vejerano. “But this instrument will allow us to perform experiments in a more realistic environmental scenario, which will help accelerate research in air quality.”