Indiana State University Newsroom

ISU students more involved in research thanks to National Science Foundation grant

October 1, 2009

When Indiana State University student Joe Glair needs to run samples for his research on acid mine drainage, all he has to do is step into the next room and run them through the inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectrometer.

"It allows us to do our experiments, process samples and collect the data. We don't have to wait," said the senior geology major from Mitchell. "We get the results and can go back and can evaluate the data immediately."

Until recently, Jennifer Latimer, assistant professor of geology, had to take the samples to another university in Indianapolis for analysis. Thanks to an $80,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, that all changed. Now, professors and students from that university come to Terre Haute to analyze their samples.

"Before I would send an Excel file with, ‘Here's your data,'" Latimer said. "Now, (ISU students) see from the very beginning where the data comes from, they see all the research and how it works. They are getting to do every step."

The spectrometer measures the amounts of elements in samples. Latimer and her students transform solid samples into liquids by dissolving them in acid, melting them or extracting different phases. The liquid then is pulled into the spectrometer's nebulizer, which turns the sample into an aerosol. The aerosol then is injected into the plasma.

"That's when it gets excited," Latimer said.

The plasma, which reaches thousands of degrees and is contained by a strong magnetic field, makes electrons jump to an excited state. As the electrons fall back down to their ground state, they emit a photon at particular wave lengths of light, which the spectrometer captures and displays in graphs on a computer.

"For environmental geochemistry, the levels are really important because of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines and health standards," she said. "However, for the paleoceanographic work, we are often trying to quantify what is there and then infer the physical and biologic processes that contributed to that abundance."

Latimer's research ranges from paleoceanographic research involving climate change to biogeochemistry projects such as examining lead concentrations in soils from Fairbanks Park, Farrington's Grove and Gilbert Park areas of Terre Haute. She also investigates acid mine drainage, and as a new project is testing soil and water samples recently taken at Riverscape in West Terre Haute as part of an environmental science class.

"We'll tell the students what we found, but it's also to see if there's any reason to start some research out there," Latimer said.

The grant also allowed the university to buy a UV visible spectrophotometer, which differentiates between different irons rather than elements.

Contact: Jennifer Latimer, Indiana State University, assistant professor of geology, at 812-237-2254 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or


Cutline: Jennifer Latimer, assistant professor of geology, prepares the inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectrometer to process samples. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem


Cutline: A computer captures and displays in graphs as the spectrometer's plasma makes samples' electrons jump in an excited state. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem