Daniel Kwasniewski

Finding The Light

KwasniewskiWhen associate professor of chemistry Rosemarie Chinni arrived at Alvernia eight years ago, she brought with her a vision for students rooted in her own college experience.

“As an undergraduate student, I landed an internship with the Department of Energy and went to Los Alamos National Laboratory,” explained Chinni. “That’s where I worked under an accomplished physicist named David Cremers and learned about laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy.”

Chinni says the experience was transforming and allowed her direct access to extraordinary equipment like lasers, spectrographs, photodiode array detectors and oscilloscopes. “It really piqued my interest in instrumentation and gave me a chance to see how important those tools are in science and to applying them professionally in the field.

“I learned that the answers to all of our problems, whether they are medical or environmental, can be solved through scientific research and development,” said Chinni.

Chinni wanted Alvernia students to have the same type of experience as well.

She soon began working to acquire the very best instrumentation for Alvernia students, eventually leading the university to seek funding for equipment that would give students exposure to the same level of technology that she had access to at Los Alamos. Thanks to federal funding and grants, in spring 2010 Chinni’s vision became a reality. That’s when a state-of-the-art laser lab and additional research analysis instrumentation was installed in the O’Pake Science Center.

“We now have a laser lab unlike what most undergraduates would ever see,” Chinni said. The equipment can be used in research, at both molecular and atomic levels, in situations that range from testing mercury levels in water to the simple detection of lead paint on walls or children’s toys. When it comes to forensic science, the lab is well equipped for a range of activities, including identification of pesticides and drug compounds to explosive analysis and DNA fragmentation.

“Our students need to compete with other students when they apply for jobs or go to graduate school,” Chinni said. “Having access to state-of-the-art instrumentation gives them valuable experience, makes themmore competitive with students graduating from other institutions, and helps to build their resumes.”

Students in Chinni’s classes get to engage in hands-on research projects using Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) and Cold Vapor Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (CVAAS). Using these techniques, they have the ability to analyze a broad range of materials, including paints, water, air, and soil.

“It helped demonstrate to me that there are more techniques to determine the identity of a particular element in a given sample or substance,” said junior biochemistry and chemistry major Dan Kwasniewski '13 of the laser lab. “It’s also increased my awareness and knowledge of how to safely and properly use instruments in the lab environment.”

Recent graduate and senior scholar Lauren Kurek ’11, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in chemistry at Villanova University, wrote her honors thesis with the assistance of Chinni on the topic of research using LIBS instrumentation. She describes her experience as unique. “Most people have never even heard of LIBS,” she said. “Dr. Chinni really inspired me as a student to push myself to the next level and take advantage of the research opportunities available.”

Kurek’s story is not unique. Kwasniewski and student Amanda McGettigan conducted research to assess the methyl mercury concentration inBerks County waterways. Working with Chinni, the pair used CVAAS with the equipment available to them in the O’Pake Science Center. Kwasniewski and McGettigan analyzed water samples from 16 local waterway sites, and their analysis wascompared to a calibration curve that allowed them to determine the quality of the waterways.

Did you know?

A National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise study found that participating employers and recent college graduates agreed on the necessity of out of the classroom experiences. The study emphasizes the importance of providing students with important knowledge and skills but also experience putting that knowledge and skills to practical use in "real-world" settings.

Did you know?

Seventy-six percent of participating employers put "teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings" at the top of their list of desired capabilities in new employees, according to a National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise study. These are among the skills fostered by real-world learning experiences.

Did you know?

Service learning is a method of providing personal and academic development through work with established nonprofit organizations in the community. It is an avenue to introduce students to a professional environment without the extensive commitments of an internship.

Did you know?

Service learning provides ideal real world learning opportunities. According to SmartBlog on Leadership, doing volunteer and service work for a non-profit organization that is connected to your major or academic program of study helps develop leadership skills, expands your perspective of the world, allows you to discover new skills in a safe environment, and develops a larger network of real world contacts to draw upon once you graduate.

Did you know?

Service learning can take you outside of your comfort zone, giving you an opportunity to work with new challenges, people, politics and interpersonal dynamics. It also offers new perspective on priorities. Hanging out with people who have had different life experiences encourages you to tackle challenges from different angles. Julie Zolfo, founder of Make Success Matter said that she volunteered for six weeks at the schools in New Delhi, India.

Did you know?

"Alvernia's Career Development Center works with students to find avenues for employment, internships, co-ops, career exploration, resume development, and graduate school options. Center staff help students assess their options and identify their own "brand" to complement their life after Alvernia.

Did you know?

A recent career fair at Alvernia attracted more than 55 employers who were seeking to hire employees, co-ops and interns for their organizations. Career fairs like this one are fertile ground for students seeking real world learning opportunities and to reap the benefits of such as employers look to to hire staff members who have honed their skills and abilities via practical experiences in real situations.

Did you know?

Since its inception, Alvernia has offered real world opportunities with an emphasis on service and careers that help those in need. Field experiences in areas like criminal justice, social work, nursing, occupational therapy, health care science and teacher training among others provide our students with rich learning opportunities to test drive what it's like to work in that profession.

Did you know?

In a recent American Association of Colleges and Universities survey of 302 employers, 79 percent said institutions of higher learning should emphasize helping students apply what they learn in real-world settings, and 66 percent said that completing an internship or community field project would help prepare students for success.