ASU Receives Major State-of-the-Art Instrumentation Grant from NSF

News Date
Robert L. Green


By Hazel Scott/ASU

Analyzing materials for fingerprinting as well as gunshot residue to help police has become easier for Alabama State University STEM students.

Alabama State University has been awarded a prestigious and highly competitive grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award of $203,696 will fund the acquisition of a state-of-the-art X-ray diffractometer (XRD), a device for analyzing and measuring the structure of materials.

The one-year project, titled “Facilitating Optical X-Ray Techniques for Research and Organized Training at Alabama State University (FOXTROT-ASU),” will benefit the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics by using the specialized equipment to enhance research and teaching capabilities.

XRD operates rather quickly (typically below 20 minutes) and is often the most accurate and reliable technique for the unambiguous identification of unknown materials. Various industries ranging from manufacturing of steel, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, and ceramics use this technique to drive innovation and ensure that the quality of goods are of a particular standard.

Dr. Robert L. Green, Chair of the Department of Physical and Forensic Sciences and serves as the project’s Principal Investigator and expert on this experimental technique, said the new instrumentation will ensure that ASU continues to be at the leading edge of structural science.

“My initial reaction to being awarded this grant was pure joy and excitement of finally having the tool that will catalyze my research efforts and provide hands-on experiences to students taking upper-level chemistry courses," Green explained.  

The Charleston, S.C. native said the award will strengthen the existing Department of Physical and Forensic Sciences degree programs (Chemistry, Forensic Chemistry and Forensic Biology), as well as Biomedical Engineering research at ASU by allowing students to be trained on theory and application by faculty experts.

“The acquisition of this instrument provides an upgrade on research capabilities not only for existing programs, but the forthcoming mechanical engineering program is also enhanced,” Green said.

Green noted the XRD instrument will create new lucrative career pathways for students who have undergraduate experiences with this technique.

“The data collected will be used to enhance existing partnerships with the NSF Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology and ASU’s existing project ‘Infusing Collaborations in Forensics for Conceptualizing Student Innovation at Alabama State University (CSI-ASU)’ where this instrument can be used to structurally analyze materials for fingerprinting as well as gunshot residue.

Gulnaz Javan, a nationally acclaimed forensic scientist at Alabama State University, said “the competitiveness of minority students in the field of functional materials will improve using this instrument and will transform ASU into a major center for X-ray diffraction and structural science.” 

Javan pointed out that student-faculty partnerships coming from this project can be leveraged for more prestigious collaborations with the Department of Energy National Laboratory facilities to conduct groundbreaking research.

“This will change our research trajectory and how well we enhance the lives of our students,” she added. “I am excited for the future undergraduate researchers that will have the opportunity to conduct sample measurements and collect their own data,“ Javan said.

Green acknowledged that having these experiences will prove to be invaluable because many larger institutions have staff positions dedicated to this technique, making students who  have these  experiences more marketable when they apply for entry-level jobs, internships and graduate programs.

“I am looking forward to a time in the near future where undergraduate students will synthesize and analyze materials in-house and publish their research findings in quality peer-reviewed journals. We now have the tool that can propel us forward to make this dream a reality. This is just the first step of the journey,” Green said.

Green added that the FOXTROT-ASU project includes free XRD scans for small institutions, including Huntingdon College.

“There are plans to offer an instrument training course for potential local users and a structural characterization workshop that focuses on determining the usefulness of the data, as well as using well-known software programs for structural refinement,” Green said. 

XRD photo