Local corporations pitch in to further student research, maintain prestige
New lab facilities with advanced technology, built through donations from Chevron Corp. and Agilent Technologies, were showcased by the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences this month.
DEAS professor John Casey, a principal investigator in renovating the facilities, said the new instruments include some of the latest technologies for analyzing isotopes, molecules and elemental abundances in various geological materials — rocks, minerals, oil, gas and natural waters among others.
“They represent a quantum leap in not only productivity, but in our previous analytical capabilities and past limits of detection,” Casey said. “Some of the instruments donated by Agilent have only recently been developed, placing UH at the leading edge in terms of analytical capabilities.”
This, alongside equipment recently funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA, will allow the University to advance its study of the latest topics in the field with new technologies.
DEAS research professor Adry Bissada, a principal investigator alongside Casey, said these new technologies will also be helpful in the research and study of deep oceans for the petroleum industry.
“As the petroleum industry moves more into unconventional shale oil and shale gas and ultra-deep-water plays in the Gulf of Mexico, the need for high-grading and pinpointing sweet spots in the unconventional domain and for characterizing and predicting exploration outcomes in the ultra-deep-water plays is critical,” Bissada said. “Both donations will be instrumental in the molecular and trace-element characterization of the unusual crude oils expected from ultra-deep-water exploration plays.”
Casey said that having these highly sophisticated technologies at the disposal of the UH community benefits the University as a whole.
“It feels wonderful. This shows a keen interest by the University in maintaining our status as a leading Tier One research university and a leading geochemical facility,” Casey said.
“The labs will serve the whole University and will be open for student and faculty use not only in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, but the college and other departments in various colleges in the University. In addition, guest investigators from other universities or research institutions and our collaborators will use the facilities, bringing outside attention to the state-of-the-art facilities at UH.”
By student population at both the graduate and undergraduate level, the DEAS is the largest geosciences department in the U.S. The department recently had two Ph.D. programs nationally ranked under the National Research Council’s Research University Stringent Ranking System. Casey said the needs of supporting such a large undergraduate and graduate population, maintaining national prestige and supporting the large community of students and faculty while providing modern analytical facilities are important to the status of the department as a research entity and the University.
“At a time when we are attempting to promote undergraduate research in addition to traditional graduate research projects, these instruments are timely in providing the ability to accommodate more and more firsthand experiential learning for all our students at all degree levels,” Casey said.
Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer Rathindra Bose said the renovations have created a remarkable mass spectrometry facility that will further the future of scientists and engineers on campus.
“We are thankful to both Chevron and Agilent Technologies for their donation,” Bose said.
The department works with both high-technology corporations and has long-term relationships in research and recruiting with each. Casey said sharing resources with Chevron and Agilent allows students to be educated with the most advanced tools and become the next generation of employees in the industry.
“They, like us, have research problems to solve, new methods and application needs in geochemical and chemical analysis and personnel needs for the future,” Casey said. “If we share our intellectual capital and knowledge, it is a win-win for both the University and the corporation.”
Casey said Houston is the perfect backdrop for this type of collaboration.
“The Houston region is one of Agilent’s largest markets because of the petrochemical, chemical and related companies representing the lion’s share of the base of Houston’s economy,” Casey said. “UH, Houston’s university, is therefore a natural fit and an educational institution with which to partner with our energy focus.”
The College of Natural Science and Mathematics received new lab facilities and equipment in a donation from Chevron Corp. and Agilent Technologies. The instruments, such as the ICP Ionization Source, right, can create charged particles.