NSF MRI Grant Supports Interdisciplinary Research and Research Training

Award Date: September 2012


Project Title: "MRI: Acquisition of a Stable Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer for Interdisciplinary Research and Undergraduate Research Training"

Principal Investigator David Gillikin (Assistant Professor, Geology) and Co-PI Donald Rodbell (Professor/Chair, Geology) have been awarded an NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant in the amount of $325,000 to acquire a continuous flow Delta V Plus isotope ratio mass spectrometer (IRMS) and supplemental components to support interdisciplinary research and research training. This equipment is needed for several ongoing and new research projects being conducted by PI Gillikin, Co-PI Rodbell, Senior Personnel Laura MacManus-Spencer (Associate Professor, Chemistry), Steven Rice (Professor, Biology), Kathleen LoGiudice (Associate Professor, Biology), Jeffrey Corbin (Associate Professor, Biology), and Anouk Verheyden-Gillikin (Associate Adjunct Professor, Geology) as well as Union students, and researchers from outside institutions. This instrumentation will allow us to generate high-resolution data on both spatial and temporal scales, helping us to address both basic and applied questions regarding the interaction of geochemical, atmospheric, hydrologic, and biotic systems.


Intellectual Merit
Stable isotope geochemistry is a key tool in many scientific disciplines. The proposed instrumentation will advance the PI and his students' research in the development of paleoenvironmental/paleoclimatic proxies from bivalve shell geochemistry, and the application of these proxies to document impacts of historical land use change across Africa as well as the carbon cycle around the Cretaceous - Paleogene boundary. In addition, the proposed instrumentation will accelerate (and foster undergraduate student involvement in) the co-PI’s current paleoclimate research that involves the stable isotopic composition of lacustrine carbonates from Peruvian lake sediment cores that span the late glacial and Holocene.  In addition, several other research projects will benefit from the proposed instrumentation such as projects involving: paleolimnology, paleoceanography, ice-core studies, dendrochemistry, the development of peat moss as a climate proxy, soil nutrient and plant ecology, and tick-borne disease ecology.

Broader Impacts
Membership in the Keck Geology Consortium and Union’s Science and Technology Entry Program both increase the number of underrepresented students potentially exposed to the requested instrumentation. The analytical equipment will support the College’s mission to train the next generation of outstanding scholars. An integral part of training has been student presentation of research at professional meetings and in peer-reviewed publications. The instrumentation will impact a minimum of 16 researchers from 10 institutions, the lab component of 11 courses, and ~12 to 25 undergraduate research students annually. The instrumentation also targets a broad range of students. We plan on implementing an atmospheric science outreach program that will include secondary schools and the Schoharie River Center (a center serving many at-risk and underrepresented youth) in an ‘isotopes in precipitation’ study. Environmental projects, especially those with a local focus and civic relevance, attract students who are civically engaged but who may be skeptical of science and might otherwise never experience scientific research. Our proposed outreach program will draw new students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds into the geosciences. Finally, the instrumentation requested in this proposal will advance the research of pre-tenure faculty.