Sept. 19, 2022  – Valparaiso, Indiana – Valparaiso University has received a $202,151 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to purchase a Raman spectroscopy microscope. This advanced piece of equipment will be a vital asset in a variety of research projects spanning multiple departments at Valpo. 

“These kinds of grants are highly competitive, so you have to go in expecting not to get it,” said Paul Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry. “We’re very happy to have received it, not just out of a sense of personal accomplishment, but because it will bolster what the University can do in the realm of research.” 

Smith headed the application team, which included Julie Peller, Ph.D., professor of chemistry, and Jon-Paul McCool, Ph.D., assistant professor of geography. The team chose to pursue this specific microscope due to its ability to differentiate the different components of an item down to the micron, making it a vital tool for precise identification of what’s in a certain sample.

“The analogy I like to make is pasta and cheese,” Smith says. “It’s two things where you know what they are, but depending on how you mix them, you can get lasagna or tortellini. At the atomic level, iron and oxygen can make a magnet, or they can make rust.” 

Smith’s research focuses on batteries with more benign chemical interiors than the hazardous standard batteries most commonly available. This microscope will allow him to analyze the interior composition with extreme accuracy to find the most efficient mixture for storing power. Other projects the microscope will aid include microplastics research by Peller, analysis of soil and sediment deposits by McCool, stress and strain measurements, and analysis of materials produced by the James Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility.

In addition to aiding research at Valpo, the microscope will also be available to other local scientists and institutions, fulfilling Valpo’s mission of service, leadership, and cooperation both internally and with the community. 

Learn more about Valpo’s nationally recognized chemistry department at