Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences

New Research Capabilities

PhD student Mojtaba Qanbarzadeh runs PFAS samples on the Agilent Infinity 1200 liquid chromatography coupled to an Agilent 6470 triple quadrapole mass spectrometer.

One of the key engines behind advanced research is state-of-the-art instrumentation.  The Department took a big leap forward in acquiring new tools over the past year.  We recently obtained an Agilent 6470 Triple Quadrupole LC/MS System.  Among the many compounds this instrument can detect at ultra-low concentrations, our initial focus is on measurement of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  These are the so-called “forever” chemicals that are highly fluorinated and tend to persist in the environment.  The instrument is already being used in research by Drs. Ezra Cates, Alex Chow and Tanju Karanfil to quantify PFAS and other water contaminants, including selected pharmaceuticals and microcystins that are produced by harmful algae blooms.

Research Associate Dr. Shanna Estes uses the Thermo inductively coupled plasma (ICP) – mass spectrometer (MS) with both liquid sampling and solid sampling via laser ablation system. This equipment is used to quantify ultra-trace levels of plutonium in contaminated water and pond sediments.

The Department also recently acquired two new instruments for analysis and quantification of trace elements in complex environmental matrices. The first of these, a Thermo iCAP-7400 dual-view ICP-OES, replaces a similar instrument that had been in service for over 20 years and had reached the end of its useful life. This new dual-view ICP-OES provides enhanced detection limits and sensitivity, particularly for the common, but difficult to quantify, alkali metals, including sodium and potassium. It also provides greater ease-of-use and greater tolerance to samples containing high loadings of dissolved solids, making this instrument ideal for analysis of a wide variety of environmental samples, including wastewaters. The second instrument, a Thermo iCAP-RQ ICP-MS, provides a major advancement in detection capabilities over the Department’s 12-year-old ICP-MS. Specifically, the off-axis torch design decreases instrument background noise and facilitates detection across a dynamic range of more than 10 orders of magnitude, allowing detection of ultra-trace elements at sub-part-per-billion levels. The enhanced detection limits offered by this new ICP-MS will allow Dr. Brian A. Powell and his research team the unique ability to quantify ultra-trace levels of plutonium in contaminated water and pond sediments from the Savannah River Site in Aiken, SC. In addition, this new ICP-MS comes with a laser ablation “front end” that makes it possible to directly analyze solid samples, avoiding inefficient sample preparation methods that often introduce large measurement uncertainties. In particular, this laser ablation stage will allow Dr. Alex Pullen to quantify thorium, uranium, and lead isotope ratios in a variety of geologic samples, giving his team the ability to date the formation of rocks and other geologic events.

PhD students Meryem Soyluoglu and Utku Erdem are using the Thermo ICP – optical emission spectroscopy (OES) system to analyze samples. This equipment is ideal for analyzing a wide variety of environmental samples, including wastewaters.

The Department relies heavily on donations to support our ongoing effort to stay at the forefront of instrumental capabilities.  We appreciate whatever you can contribute.