A challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation
is supporting much-needed equipment for the sciences at Wesleyan.
With a challenge grant
from The Kresge Foundation, Wesleyan has already acquired a photosynthesis
system, microplate reader, spectrometers and a dye laser. With $500,000
raised from donors, the foundation provided a grant of $250,000 for a total
of $750,000 used towards the equipment purchase. And this month, Wesleyan
will receive an additional $250,000 from the foundation to support future
equipment purchases and equipment repair. Wesleyan raised
$1 million over the past 18 months to support this endowment.
“This equipment provides opportunities for our faculty and students to do
research at the highest levels,” explains David Bodznick, dean of Natural
Sciences and Mathematics, professor of biology and neuroscience and
behavior. “It expands our capabilities and allows our scientific inquiry to
keep pace with the intellectual capacity of our researchers.”
Several departments received equipment.
Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, uses a new photosynthesis system; Philip
Bolton, professor of chemistry and chair of the Chemistry Department, is
using a microplate reader; Rex Pratt, the Beach Professor of Chemistry,
is using a LC-Mass Spectrometer; and the Chemistry Department is using a Gel Permeation
Tim Ku, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, is using
his department's new ICP-Mass Spectrometer; Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck professor of
Astronomy and chair of the Astronomy Department, is using a new CCD camera; and Brian Stewart, associate professor of physics, is
using the Physics Department's new YAG/dye laser.
graduate student Jenny Konon says the department's new camera makes
astronomical observing more efficient. The camera enables users to take
photographs of faint, distant objects with super-short exposures.
"With a special light filter, it even lets us take stunning photos of
objects as bright as the moon (see image at left)," Konon says.
Sultan’s plant evolutionary ecology lab frequently uses the new LICOR
Li-6400 photosynthesis system, which is a state-of-the-art gas analyzer that
measures physiological rates on the leaves of living plants under controlled
amounts of light from a built-in light source. These measurements provide
key insights into how efficiently plants function in specific environmental
Her students have used the system to study an introduced species
called Polygonum cespitosum that has become invasive in New England. Their
LICOR data showed that study populations of this species are evolving very
rapidly to photosynthesize at higher rates in sunny habitats, where the
species has begun to spread.
Sultan presented the findings at a joint U.S.-Japan workshop on plant
response to global environmental change in October 2007.
“It's great that students
in my lab have the chance to study plant function using the LICOR system,
considered the best available instrument for photosynthesis work," Sultan
Pratt says the department’s new electrospray mass spectrometer is an
important addition to the instrumentation available to Wesleyan chemists and
“With this instrument, we are now able to obtain the mass spectra and
molecular weights of many polar and ionic molecules,” Pratt says. “Since
most biomolecules are of this type, the instrument is essential to modern
Bolton's new microplate reader has become equally essential for research
projects involving the interactions of DNA molecules with proteins and in
projects aimed at finding drug-like molecules that bind to specific sites in
Before acquiring the plate reader, Bolton and his students had to prepare
large samples and measure each one separately, which is both time consuming
and uses lots of material. With the plate reader, the lab can prepare as
many as 256 very small samples on a microplate and the reader can
determine the fluorescence of all of the samples in the same, or less time
than measuring one large sample by the previous method.
“This allows us to carry out much more extensive measurements,” Bolton
explains. “In addition, many plates can be prepared at the same time. Since
the students can now acquire much larger data sets they can also use more
sophisticated statistical methods to analyze their data.”
The Kresge Foundation of Troy, Mich. is one of the foremost supporters of
independent higher education and nonprofit organizations. The foundation
works to address society’s pressing issues in six fields of interest
including health, the environment, arts and culture, education, human
services and community development.