DSU, Wesley professors share grant funds

Three professors, two from Delaware State University, and one from Wesley College, will begin an interdisciplinary research project in February after they were recently awarded with a $30,000 seed grant from the National Science Foundation Office of Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR).

"I feel very lucky because we received a grant to support very preliminary research work, and I do expect a lot from this kind of project," said Dr. Qiquan "Josh" Wang, assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Delaware State University, and the lead principal investigator.

"I think it is great that the two institutions are working together. We have a very good working relationship," said Dr. Malcolm J. D'Souza, professor of chemistry at Wesley College.

"These collaborations are-important because I get to see what others are doing, and there is also interaction between students on both campuses."

Dr. Samuel Besong, Delaware State University's College of Agriculture and Related Sciences chairperson and associate professor of food and nutritional sciences will be the third professor involved with the research project, which is called "Contamination of Phthalates in the Indoor Environment and their Correlation with other Organic Contaminants."

Dr. D'Souza said the three will investigate phthalate occurrence in dust samples from various indoor environments, and explore their effects on humans in indoor environments.

He said phthalates are found in some plastic products, and may have a negative effect on human health.

"Contamination is a serious problem, and we want to find out how serious it is and maybe solve the problem for the whole population in the United States," Dr. Wang said.

Dr. D'Souza said part of the grant will pay for a part-time technician who they are in the process of hiring. Dr. Wang said the technician, who he will oversee, will help perform analysis.

''At DSU, our research is not as dominating as the University of Delaware. We have lots of teaching jobs here, and I am very busy almost every semester," he said. "Because we are using this project to get preliminary data so we can write a proposal, we want to have a technician to perform analysis."

Dr. Wang said he wiII train and supervise the technician, who will have a chemistry and biology background, to work independently in the lab taking samples and recording data that will ultimately be used to write a proposal seeking additional funding to continue with the research.

Dr. Wang and Dr. D'Souza said students will also participate in the study, including Aaron Givens, a junior, who is a Wesley College biological chemistry major, and wIll be working with Dr. Wang over the summer.

“He comes from a farming family in Delaware and is interested in the environment. For him to get this experience is just great,” Dr. D'Souza said.

He said the seed grant comes from a larger, federal grant program, known as EPSCoR, overseen in Delaware by Dr. Don Sparks with the University of Delaware, to help build the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN), the goals of which is to get all the schools in Delaware to communicate and work together.

According to EPSCoR's Web site, the grant program is led by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help states develop their research capabilities and institutions.

Delaware's EPSCoR program, the site says, has three main goals: to build research and education capacity at all four partner institutions; to broaden the participation of De!aware's diverse student population in science and technology career pathways; and to bridge the gap between research and application to help solve Delaware’s environmental problems and create jobs.

It said program funds are used to hire new research faculty; provide education opportunities for K-12, undergraduate and graduate students; purchase research instrumentation; catalyze new research initiatives and create networking opportunities across the participating organizations.

“It’s very interesting and also something important to establish a relationship with other institutions,” Dr. Wang said. “Several faculty members with the same research interest will combine together so we really can fight for something big.”

He added, “One person can not do anything we want, but once we combine, talk and support each other, that will be very competitive, and can be used as an advantage for everyone. That’s the way we become stronger.”

Dr. Wang said the phthalates project will begin in February and end in Decemeber. He said he and the other investigators will write a proposal for additional funds later this year if they receive useful data from the research, and hopefully send the proposal out early next year.

For more information about EPSCoR, visit www.epscor.udel.edu.

Article by Jamie-Leigh Bissett, staff writer
Delaware State News
January 25, 2011