Chemistry students have been getting hands-on experience with high-powered, industry-leading lab equipment this academic year through the support of a grant from the McLean Contributionship. The nearly $45,000 grant was awarded in late 2021, enabling the Chemistry Department to upgrade the lab instrumentation students use to process and analyze environmental samples.
In addition to updated spectrophotometers, which measure the intensity of light passing through various materials and compounds, Chemistry students have also gained access to a new High-Performance Liquid Chromatograph (HPLC), which isolates each component of a given sample mixture for analysis using powerful software. HPLCs are instrumental in techniques widely used when analyzing environmental issues like air pollution, oil spills, and the effects of plastic on nature.
“[The HPLC] is a great résumé builder because it’s one of the most powerful instruments in the world—meaning it’s used by many scientists, appearing in numerous published articles, and in many areas: biochemistry, chemistry, biology, forensics,” said Joseph Smith, PhD, Associate Professor, Chemistry. “It has a lot of applications.”
Forensics is a passion for Biochemistry student, Elizabeth Klimek (ʼ24), who is among the first Cabrini students to work directly with the HPLC as part of a research credit she is earning this semester.
“I am planning to eventually work for the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] and working in a laboratory there,” Klimek said. “I thought working with [the HPLC] would give me valuable hands-on experience.”
While some classes—like Smith’s Organic Chemistry lab class this semester and an Instrumental Chemistry lab class to be taught in the spring by Melinda Harrison, PhD, Chair and Professor, Chemistry—will use the HPLC in guided group settings to understand its function, students are encouraged to pursue research opportunities to get direct experience with the technology.
“From the procedures we’re given by our professors, we learn a little of the theory behind it, but we don’t physically run the samples or the injections ourselves,” Klimek said of the traditional classroom experience with the HPLC. “But my experience with this research, I kind of get a little more flexibility, and I’m able to experiment with the HPLC and not have to have a timed duration with the instrument.”
Lab Manager and Chemical Hygiene Officer, Daniel Dye, who joined Cabrini after nearly a decade of lab experience in the oil and gas industry, said the experience students like Klimek are getting with the HPLC system is invaluable to their careers.
“This is important because she’s getting one-on-one time with the instrument and her instructor, so she’s getting a deep dive and she’s going to really understand it well,” Dye said. “[Elizabeth] is going to get to play around with it…whatever her research calls for.”
Klimek is helping to design an experiment that Smith’s lab class will conduct on the HPLC before semester’s end.
“We’re going to put a lot of mileage on [this equipment],” Smith said. “It’s great for students’ knowledge base, education, and résumé.”
The McLean Contributionship, a Philadelphia-area organization established in 1951 for charitable, educational, and scientific purposes, currently focuses its grant-making activities in the arts, culture and humanities, education, environment and animal welfare, and health and human services.