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Westminster College Chemistry Professor, Students, and Alumni Participated in Pittcon

Posted on Tuesday, May 14, 2013

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. - Eight Westminster students, Dr. Helen Boylan, Westminster College associate professor of chemistry, and Dr. Timothy Sherwood, associate professor of chemistry and department chair, participated in the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon) in March in Philadelphia.

Pittcon is one of the largest analytical chemistry conferences in the world with more than 18,000 attendees, hundreds of technical presentations, and nearly 1,000 exhibitors.

Senior chemistry major Scott Braden presented "Capsaicin and Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) Quantification of Peppers Using High Performance Liquid Chromatography." The research was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Sarah Kennedy, assistant professor of chemistry.

The goal of this study was to examine a variety of peppers and analyze the amount of capsaicin (an alkanoid that causes the strong flavor in peppers) in each type using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).   The conversion of the concentration of capsaicin to SHU is a linear relationship.  The results from the HPLC were used to quantify the concentration of the capsaicin in each variety of pepper.  Based on the concentration of capsaicin of each pepper, the SHU values were determined.

Braden is a son of David and Rhonda Braden of Camp Hill and a graduate of Cedar Cliff High School.

Junior Chemistry major Haley Gabor presented "Field and Laboratory Analysis of Abandoned Mine Drainage through a Passive Treatment System." The research was advised by Boylan.

Abandoned mines create environmental pollutants that contaminate water resources in mining regions throughout the world. Treatment methods are either "active" or "passive." In "passive treatment," there is a strong reliance on biological, geochemical, and gravitational processes. The purpose of this study was to analyze samples for iron and hot acidity from various locations in the passive treatment system, DeSale Restoration Area - Phase I, to ensure the system was working properly and the water leaving the system was safe. Samples from six sites in the system were taken and field tests were performed at each location.

Gabor is a daughter of Sandra Gabor of New Kensington and a graduate of Ford City High School.

Senior chemistry major Nicole George presented "Analyzing the Chemistry Behind Color-Changing Paints."  Junior Chemistry major Julie Rice was the co-author of this poster and also attended the conference. Boylan was their adviser.

The goal of this research was to use qualitative and quantitative techniques, as well as computational chemistry, to investigate the chemistry behind color-changing paints.  Testing of the paints with dicarboxlic acids, strong acids, C18 columns, and silica columns demonstrated color development.  Analytical techniques including UV-VIS spectroscopy, NMR spectroscopy, and electron microscopy were used to explore the spectral and chemical composition of the paints and/or paper.  In addition, computational chemistry was used to predict the reactive sites of leuco dyes (a colorless dye in the paint).

George is a daughter of Jonathan and Lisa George of Valencia and a graduate of Mars Area High School.

Rice is a daughter of Paul and Diane Rice and a graduate of Poland Seminary High School.

Senior biochemistry major Olivia Miller presented "Quantification of Capsaicin and Determination of Scoville Units of Salsas through High Performance Liquid Chromatography." The research was supervised by Kennedy.

The goal of this research was to use high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to quantify the amount of capsaicin, the spicy component found in chili peppers, in their various salsas. Scoville heat units showing the heat factors for each individual salsa were then derived from calculations using a standard curve based on the amount of capsaicin present in each sample. Standards were created from a 1000 ppm solution of capsaicin to create a standard curve for analysis and the salsas were digested in ethanol through heating before being filtered and run through the HPLC. The HPLC was utilized for the concentration determination of the capsaicin due to its ability to distinctly separate components of a solution with accuracy and precision.

Miller is a daughter of James and Odel Miller and a graduate of Freedom Area High School.

Senior chemistry major Danielle Murtagh presented "Optimization of the Recovery of Barium and Strontium from Produced Water." The research was advised by Boylan.

The hydraulic fracturing process requires millions of gallons of water per well.  Over time, these wells produce water.  Produced water contains very high concentrations of barium, strontium, iron, chlorides, and many other substances.  The purpose of this study was to optimize the precipitation of barium and strontium from produced water samples.  Due to similar chemical properties, both barium and strontium can be precipitated out of water with sulfates.  However, they also tend to precipitate out of solutions together.  In order to optimize the separation of barium and strontium from produced water, she studied the effects of several things, including:  pH, precipitating agents, and presence of ligands. 

Murtagh is a daughter of Timothy and Lori Murtagh and a graduate of Mars Area High School.

Senior chemistry major Gavin Steadman presented "Preliminary Studies in the Chemometric Analysis of Frack Water Samples." The research was supervised by Boylan and Dr. Carolyn Cuff, professor of mathematics. Students Morgan Swartz and Brittany Majors were co-authors on this poster, but did not attend the conference.

A series of production water samples from unconventional wells were extracted and analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.  The complex chromatography and mass spectrometry results that are characteristic of the produced water samples were analyzed using a chemometric approach.  In preliminary studies a partial least squares model was created to determine if unknown water samples were contaminated with frack waste.  With an expanded data set, this model could be used to verify groundwater integrity in any location where hydraulic fracturing has taken place in the Marcellus Shale.  Similar chemometric models could be constructed for groundwater testing in regions where different shale formations are being hydraulically fractured.

Steadman is a son of Jerry and Wanda Steadman and a graduate of Corry Area High School.

Majors, a sophomore chemistry major, is a daughter of Mark and Debbie Majors of Wampum and a graduate of Lincoln High School.

Swartz, a senior mathematics major, is a daughter of Sheri Swartz and Kevin Swartz, Hubbard, Ohio, and a graduate of West Middlesex Area High School.

Senior chemistry major Krista Ulisse presented "Longitudinal Study of Metal Concentration in Fingernails, Toenails, and Hair: A Comparative Analysis." She was advised by Boylan.

Current research shows that fingernails, toenails, and hair samples can be used to analyze metal concentrations in the human body. However, few studies have shown the reliability of those methods. Fingernail and toenail clippings and hair samples were collected from healthy adults and children over a period of four weeks. Samples were digested and analyzed selenium, zinc, strontium, and iron using graphite furnace atomic absorption spectroscopy and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Results were compared to determine if there were any statistically significant differences among metal concentrations seen in fingernails, toenails, and/or hair samples and to determine the variability of metal concentrations in the samples over a period of four weeks.

Ulisse is a daughter of David and Mary Ulisse of Jeanette and a graduate of Penn-Trafford High School.

Braden, Gabor, George, Miller, Murtagh, Rice, and Steadman served as student aides at the conference.

Boylan is an organizing committee member for Pittcon, and for this year's conference she served as registration chair and participated on the Program and Site Selection committees.

Boylan also arranged a conferee networking session, "Making the Most out of Graduate School," that was moderated by Westminster alumnus Andrew Davic '09, now in graduate school at Duquesne University.

Boylan, a Westminster alumna who joined the faculty in 2001, earned a Ph.D. from Duquesne University.

Additional Westminster alumni participants included Brian Domanski '08, Daniel Hopkins `80, Doug McMahon `07, Justin Shearer '02, and Ian "Mitch" Taylor `08.

Sherwood hosted a teacher workshop titled "Stoichiometry and Limiting Reactant Laboratories" for Science Week, an outreach program during Pittcon that targets schools in the region where the conference is being held.

Sherwood, who has been with Westminster since 1999, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Sciences in Philadelphia and Ph.D. from the University of Delaware.

All students received travel/presentation grants from Westminster's Drinko Center for Experiential Learning to attend the conference.

The Drinko Center for Experiential Learning was created to enrich undergraduate education at Westminster through advancing world-class teaching as well as by participating in collaborations that address community and regional needs including strengthening K-12 education.  The Undergraduate Research Initiative provides funding for students to conduct research and to present their research at regional and national conferences. 

Contact Boylan at (724) 946-6293 or email for additional information on the research or the conference.

(l-r) Haley Gabor, Olivia Miller, Gavin Steadman, Krista Ulisse, Nicole George, Scott Braden, Julie Rice, Danielle Murtagh, and Dr. Helen Boylan