By Denise Dick
and David Skolnick
A grant from the National Science Foundation will allow Youngstown State University’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics students to use state-of-the-art equipment in materials research.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and YSU President Randy J. Dunn will announce the $470,000 federal grant today to purchase equipment to be used for the advancement of science, technology, engineering and math.
“It builds on our technology base and helps grow YSU as a research university,” said Ryan, of Niles, D-13th. “The whole idea is to diversify the economy. I’m really, really pleased with the direction we [are taking] in the Mahoning Valley compared to 10, 11 years ago.”
The grant will buy a crystal X-ray diffractometer, which will allow students to see the structure of a molecule at an atomic level, said Allen D. Hunter, chemistry professor and principal investigator for the grant.
“The instrument we’re getting is the highest-precision instrument in Ohio,” Hunter said. “It allows us to look at much smaller or more complicated samples.”
It will allow students to collaborate on projects with other schools, companies and industry, he said.
“If you’re trying to improve an anti-cancer drug or make ceramics be less brittle and you want to understand what’s going on, you need to understand the matter in more detail at an atomic level,” Hunter said.
Martin Abraham, dean of YSU’s STEM College, said one of the most important things in the STEM fields is state-of-the-art equipment — and the diffractometer is state-of-the-art.
“The diffractometer we have now was in place before I arrived at YSU — six or seven years ago — so it’s about 10 years old,” Abraham said. “Put that in the perspective of your computer. We’re talking about things that change at the rate of change of computer technology. Ten years is three generations out of date and out of touch. This will bring us back in the current state of the art.”
The grant covers the full cost of the equipment, and YSU expects to have it in place by mid- to late winter.
Hunter said having the diffractometer will allow students to gain hands-on experience.
“Every good university gives them the theory,” Hunter said. “The theory and instruction of using a piece of equipment is very different from the practice.”
Ryan said that because of the growth of the university’s STEM program as well as the Youngstown Business Incubator and National Manufacturing Innovation Institute, his congressional office is receiving numerous calls from companies interested in advanced manufacturing that are considering coming to the Mahoning Valley.
YSU has received three other grants in the past six years from the National Science Foundation, a federal agency that promotes science and engineering through research programs and education projects.
“We believe our track record has been very good,” Abraham said.
Of note is $444,555 last year to acquire a variable-scanning electron microscope used in the university’s STEM program, and a $149,499 grant in 2008 was used to buy an X-ray machine and a UV ray-visible spectrometer for YSU’s chemistry lab.
“It’s a testament to the quality of our faculty who write the grants and to how the funds are used after we get them, for the benefit of students at YSU and throughout the Mahoning Valley,” Abraham said.