Funds from the Major Research Instrumentation program will support the acquisition of a high resolution Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer (GC/MS) at Wesleyan University. The GC/MS will be used to study organic residues from ancient contexts, and to model environmental variation and degradation of the organic compounds found in such residues. GC/MS is used to separate, identify, and quantify the individual compounds within a complex organic mixture, and high quality instrumentation is necessary to identify the trace quantities remaining in ancient samples. These compounds can be used to identify the source plant or blend of organic ingredients used to make an ancient perfume, medicine, spiced wine, or other organic commodity. The GC/MS will also be used to generate comprehensive profiles ( chemical ?fingerprints?) of modern plants, and identify intermediate compounds produced when organics degrade. The chemical reference data produced by the investigators will be contributed to publicly accessible data libraries such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and may be of use to manufacturing and cosmetic/pharmaceutical industries concerned with organic product safety, as well as forensic and environmental scientists. The data obtained will also be used to populate the first open-access database of ancient organic results for the archaeological community.

The project will develop and refine the potential of organic residue analysis as a methodology to study ancient economy and environment. It will investigate ecological variation by collecting and chemically profiling specimens of the same plant species across a range of microclimates. By studying variation among plants which ancient authors identified as having variable properties, the project will investigate the impact of local ecologies, for example by determining how climate variation might cause plants to express different quantities of medicinally-active ingredients. These findings may have implications for modern biopharmaceutical development. The project will also model how certain organic materials degrade over time. Finally, the GC/MS will be core to Wesleyan?s Advanced Integrated Laboratory course, where students carry out contract research projects for faculty labs while developing skill sets specifically required for work in industry and leading research labs. The integration of the GC/MS into courses planned across Wesleyan?s humanities and social science curriculum will draw new constituencies into STEM, facilitate cross-disciplinary research, and provide students with skills-based scientific training that will be directly applicable to future careers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Wesleyan University
United States
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