One in a Billion: Department of Chemistry Receives Donation for New Equipment

By Becky St. Clair on May 16, 2018

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PUC’s department of chemistry is grateful to two generous donors who helped the department acquire a microwave plasma atomic emission spectrometer (MPAES). The MPAES can measure the amount of over 60 elements in many types of samples, and is sensitive enough to detect one part in a billion. So, what does this mean in real life?

“Atomic spectroscopy is often used to evaluate heavy metals, such as lead and mercury in environmental samples like soil and water,” explains Dr. Robert Wilson, associate professor of chemistry. “It is also used to determine if lead is in the paint in children’s toys or measure mineral content in food.”

Wilson also says the software for the MPAES is very easy to understand and use, which means students with little to no lab experience will be able to operate a state-of-the-art instrument on their own, offering them valuable independence in the lab.

“The measurement process is very fast,” says Wilson. “It only takes about one minute per sample, and several elements can be measured simultaneously.”

It’s not just the chemists who can benefit from this equipment; Dr. Kent Davis, chair of the department, foresees partnerships with other scientists, too.

“We aren’t the only ones who see a use for the MPAES,” he says. “Biologists, environmentalists, and others can utilize the machine for measuring soil, water, and other samples to evaluate for contamination” Davis said.

PUC’s department of biology is interested in using the MPAES to measure soil samples for boron content, and their environmental studies majors will find it a useful piece of equipment, as well.

“Other colleges similar in size to PUC may have atomic absorption instruments, rather than an MPAES,” says Wilson. “These instruments are not as sensitive and do not offer the range of elements an emission-based technique does. PUC is fortunate to have equipment like this in its labs.”

For more information about chemistry at PUC, visit or or call (800) 862-7080 to talk with an enrollment counselor.