Advancing Careers with Advanced Technology

(April 3, 2013) Last year, Armstrong was one of 35 public colleges and universities in Georgia to receive special funding to strengthen the state's workforce. Governor Nathan Deal and the Georgia Assembly awarded the University System of Georgia (USG) $72.5 million in new funding through the state's Complete College Georgia (CCG) initiative. The funding enabled the USG Board of Regents to provide dollars for programs at all USG institutions.

Armstrong has strategically applied some of its $1.3 million in funding to upgrade lab equipment for the College of Health Professions and College of Science and Technology to stay ahead of the curve and offer state-of-the-art facilities to students in these rapidly growing disciplines.

The university's chemistry department received a new Rigaku minilab single crystal X-ray apparatus, which uses X-ray radiation to determine the identity and location of individual atoms within a molecule.

“With this instrument, the faculty and staff at Armstrong have the capacity to rapidly characterize compounds that would otherwise be difficult or time-consuming to do with common spectroscopic methods,” explained Will Lynch, chemistry professor and head of the chemistry and physics department. “Complicated projects can now be facilitated without sending the samples for off-site analysis, thus streamlining the process.”

Lynch believes the new equipment will ultimately lead to more research at Armstrong and more articles being published in high-impact scientific journals. A new chemistry course has been developed to introduce students to the principles and applications of single X-ray crystallography. The students also receive hands-on training to operate the instrument.

“By exposing our students to these techniques in their seminal studies, they will have experience to rapidly contribute to those disciplines that require single crystal X-ray analysis,” Lynch said.

However, the chemistry department isn't the only area to benefit from state-of-the-art lab equipment. Thanks to the additional CCG funding, the university's biology department will soon have a Life Technologies Ion Torrent Semiconductor Sequencer, which will allow faculty and students to collect large DNA sequence data.

“By generating such a large amount of data, you are able to ask questions at the cutting edge of genetics,” said Aaron Schrey, assistant professor of biology. “You can ask questions about how the genome varies among individuals and species, fundamentally expanding the scope of traditional marker-based genetic analysis.”

Using different applications, faculty and students can identify and measure DNA sequence variation, epigenetic variation, or differential gene expression among samples. “The sequencer also allows for metagenomics and environmental DNA experiments,” Schrey added, “addressing a variety of questions across biology, from characterizing an individual's genome to investigating how the genome changes to allow for adaptation.”

This new device will offer a more detailed look at genetic variation among organisms, but, perhaps even more important, it will benefit Armstrong students and contribute to the university's spirit of scientific inquiry.

“Students will have the opportunity to work with a cutting-edge genetic instrument,” Schrey explained. “Having access to this sequencer will provide new avenues for research and will likely give the opportunity for cutting-edge work to be done. It is imperative that students are introduced to this type of analysis early in their academic careers. This platform literally changes what is possible in genetics.”

Other technological advances in the College of Science and Technology made possible from CCG include a new fabrication apparatus for the engineering department that allows students to fabricate custom objects from computer data.

In the College of Health Professions, the new equipment acquired with CCG funds helps health professions students use some of the latest technology and better prepare themselves for patient care. The department now has a Kyoto Kagaku arterial blood gas puncture arm in the simulation lab, which allows students to conduct life-like intravenous, infusion, and blood collection exercises. The piece can also simulate conditions that help students practice blood gas tests. According to respiratory therapy department head Douglas Masini, the arterial blood gas arm is a rarity in any simulation lab.

Armstrong's science and technology and health professions students are already known for the strong research opportunities they have on campus. Now they can take that one step further with new technology and become even more competitive in their field.