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Grant Funding Supports Interdisciplinary Studies in the Sciences

North Park Science Students Dissecting

CHICAGO (December 11, 2009) – The Max Goldenberg Foundation, which last year provided $10,000 in grant funding for North Park University’s nursing chemistry laboratories, recently awarded a second grant to the University to purchase reflectance spectroscopy instruments for the biology and chemistry departments.

The foundation supports projects in medical research, laboratory science education, and charitable endeavors, explains biology professor Dr. Linda Vick, who applied for the $7,100 award with chemistry colleague Dr. Jonathan Rienstra-Kiracofe.

Reflectance spectroscopy measures wavelengths and the intensity of reflected light, Vick describes. It can be used to precisely and objectively determine the color of an object or organism noninvasively.

“In biology, I expect to initially use the reflectance spectroscope in ethology laboratories,” she says. “In many organisms, body color can be used in individual recognition or in communication. For example, the green anole is a small reptile capable of rapid color changes from brilliant green to dusky brown. The reflectance spectroscope can be used to monitor these changes, allowing the study of the relationship between surface body color and environmental conditions or the motivational state of the animal.”

In chemistry, reflectance spectroscopy can be used to analyze the color of paints, allowing students to understand how dye molecules cause paint to have certain colors. It can also enable a person to match paint samples with more accuracy than the human eye, as is often done in the field of forensic chemistry for investigations of paint chips found at the scene of car accidents.

“Such experiments introduce students to the fundamental chemical principle of color and how specific molecules are responsible for the colors we see in objects all around us—from paint to the color of leaves in the fall, to skin and scale colors in animals,” Rienstra-Kiracofe explains.

He and Vick have actively discussed the value of developing programs that increase collaboration between the biology and chemistry departments, seeking new ways to infuse technology and analytic equipment into basic science courses and to reinforce the integration of the two fields.

“Biology and the understanding of biological processes can be enhanced through a better grounding in chemical concepts,” Vick says. “In turn, biology provides a framework for the practical application of chemical principles and methods. With the initiation of the new environmental science major this semester and its interdisciplinary science focus, the impetus for collaboration between our departments has been strengthened.”

Several additional science initiatives have been planned or are currently underway. Last month, biology students Monica Cholewinsky, Rebecca Morrison, Jakob Ondrey, and Matt Meyers received a grant from the TriBeta Research Foundation, a division of the national biology honor society, TriBeta. The funds will be used to support undergraduate research on the molecular characterization of Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria in the Chicagoland area. The research is supervised by North Park biology professors Drs. Matt Schau and Justin Topp, in conjunction with the work of Dr. Jeff Nelson.

The chemistry department also recently submitted a proposal to the Pittsburg Conference National Memorial College Grant Program, to purchase a Raman Spectroscopy System that would enable students to study chemical properties at the molecular level. A decision is expected in February.