Breaks Away: Jenny Hampton

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope

Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering both restoration and adventure, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

Scientists have been searching for alternative energy sources for years, ones that are more environmentally plentiful and safe. While we tend to think first of wind and solar energy as those natural and prudent ways to power our world, Dr. Jennifer Hampton’s sabbatical research reminds us that other Earth-abundant materials – such as sodium or potassium – have the potential to help with energy usage and storage, too.

JennyHampton
Dr. Jenny Hampton, associate professor of physics, stands beside a monitor in her lab that displays charging and discharging waves of new materials that hopefully will one day provide energy storage.

At the Energy Materials Center (EMC2) at Cornell University last year as a visiting scientist, Hampton went back home in a way to help discover new energy materials and methodology. It was at Cornell where she completed her PhD in 2002, and at EMC2 where her doctoral advisor, Hector Abruña, still conducts research. There once again, Hampton dedicated a year’s worth of her own research – interdisciplinary in nature as it combines physics, chemistry and engineering – to answering these decades-old questions: What can work as energy and how can it be stored?

“There is a lot of interesting work in the fuzzy boundaries between science disciplines,” says Hampton. “That’s where this research is at. And I very much like that cross fertilization of different mindsets that are working on the same problems.”

Hampton is hoping to find ways to optimize cheap, bountiful materials for particular applications that could affect consumer electronics, transportation and even power grids.

This interconnectedness of sciences is part of Hampton’s forte. Her work in electrochemistry for making nanoporous alloys is rife with chemical and physical knowledge, two fields in which she focused her post-doctoral program for three years at Pennsylvania State University. Hampton has involved Hope students in the intermingling of these subject matters during her summer and school year research, sharing with them the importance that “a singular training or emphasis – in chemistry or physics – doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to a broader conversation, or bigger problem or solution. It almost always takes several scientists to achieve one goal.”

The goal of Hampton and her students is to look at a new type of material that has potential for use in energy storage (batteries). The class of materials is called metal hexacyanoferrates and these materials have open pores where ions of lithium, sodium, or potassium can go in and out when charging or discharging. Hampton is hoping to find ways to optimize these cheap, bountiful materials for particular applications that could affect consumer electronics, transportation and even power grids.

So far, Hampton and her battery of three students, who will be presenting their research this Friday at Hope’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research, have found that the thicker the hexacyanoferrate, the faster the charging process occurs.  “We didn’t expect that,” admits Hampton.  “Now we want to find out why.”

Hampton has a substantial grant pending from the NSF to help answer the “why.” (She was also the recipient of two previous National Science Foundation (NSF) grants worth almost $400,00 combined.) Once the reason for faster charging with thicker hexacyanoferrate is found, Hampton foresees the energy industry taking that knowledge and continuing on with their own research to build a better battery. Who knows? Maybe the battery that one day powers your car will have its foundations in a Hope College lab.

Dr. Jenny Hampton is an associate professor in the Department of Physics at Hope College.

 

Breaks Away: Jonathan Peterson

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope
Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering both restoration and adventure, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

Whether in the field at the Michigan-based AuSable Institute of Environmental Studies (AIES), or in a lab at the prestigious Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), or in the classroom of a Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) interdisciplinary program, Dr. Jonathan Peterson spent much of his year-long sabbatical in 2014-15 fully convinced of this:

Things in life are interesting and important to the degree that they relate to other things because, basically, most things in life—ideas and people—are connected, if not immediately then eventually. This credo makes sense to him back at Hope, too. The interdependence of subjects and people on each other is a fundamental aspect of a Christian, liberal arts education, after all.

PETERSON.J
Dr. Jonathan Peterson in his Schaap Science Center lab located on the campus of Hope College.

Peterson, the Lavern and Betty DePree VanKley Professor of the Geology and Environmental Science, and a firm believer that all life-matters are interrelated, likes it that way.

“Taken all together, my entire sabbatical was rejuvenating as a Christian and a scholar because those two things are not separate, just as most things in life are not separate. Most everything goes together in practice and not just theory,” says Peterson. “I was called to be a Christian scholar in two different places (AIES and ORNL) last year, and I’m called to be both here at Hope.”

“Taken all together, my entire sabbatical was rejuvenating as a Christian and a scholar because those two things are not separate, just as most things in life are not separate. Most everything goes together in practice and not just theory.”

Two AuSable teaching experiences during the summers of 2014 and 2015 bookended Peterson’s full-year sabbatical leave, with his time at Oak Ridge in the middle. Located in Mancelona, Michigan, and supported by a consortium of Christian colleges, AIES is both field-based and faith-based as teachers and students investigate matters of environmental consequence with a Christian perspective. “Students and staff at AuSable are passionate about Christian environmentalism,” Peterson says.  “It is a place that connects science and faith with themes of stewardship and conservationism in caring for God’s world.”

At ORNL, Peterson’s break-away shifted to intense research.  Though he was the resident director of the GLCA Oak Ridge Science Semester in the fall, he conducted his own research for the full academic year, too, using cutting edge technology at a world-class facility while collaborating with world-class scientists. ORNL, first established in the early 1940s as part of the U.S. government’s Manhattan Project, is the Department of Energy’s largest facility conducting research to find “transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security.” Research productivity is critical there as individual ORNL scientists—well over 3,000 in more than 100 disciplines—published their findings six to eight times each year.

Peterson’s research analyzes how antibiotics breakdown in the presence of titanium oxide nano-particles. In and of itself, this could seem like a subject highly obscure and literally minute. Yet, it is the interrelated effects of these nano-particles and drug contaminants in our environment that may have implications for human health and medicine. Very small amounts of antibiotics are present in natural waters, Peterson points out, originating in part from the livestock industry and sewage treatment plants.

“And titanium oxide nano-particles are also present and are very reactive and very small. They are used in all kinds of products— sunscreens, cosmetics, paints, adhesives, tire treads, even powdered sugar donuts. That is how they enter the environment,” explains Peterson. “I want to know how the nano-particles break down the drugs or transport them in the water.”

Because here is his research’s interconnected bottom-line toward the greater good:  The fate of these antibiotics in the environment is a key piece of information toward understanding the spread of antibiotic resistance in human and veterinary medicine.

So far, results from the research show that titanium oxide nano-particles interact with drugs in a variety of different ways. Some antibiotics undergo significant degradation while other break into fragments. Some of those fragments are transported by the nano-particles, and other are destroyed. “These results are significant,” says Peterson. “The next step is to determine the rate, or time, it takes for the interactions to occur.”

“Being at a place like Oak Ridge helped me be flexible and morph quickly as a teacher and a scientist,” continues Peterson, whose manuscript on this research was published recently in Science of the Total Environment. “Sabbaticals are good lessons to not become too entrenched. There are pressing matters that need results. I was privilege to be given the time and space to look into them.”

One related to the other, the other related to the one—this is how our world and its people work, from the smallest scientific particle to the largest Christian principle. That’s something Dr. Peterson has always related to.

Dr. Jonathan Peterson is the Lavern and Betty DePree VanKley Professor of the Geology and Environmental Science in Geological and Environmental Sciences Department at Hope College.

Breaks Away: Graham Peaslee

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope
Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering restoration and adventure both, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

On a scale of sedentary to prolific, the yearlong break away of Dr. Graham Peaslee, the Elmer E. Hartgerink Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Science, can be best described as super-productive. If there was such a thing as barometric sabbatical pressure, Dr. Peaslee crushed it.

To wit:

  • He gave talks at 27 venues in nine U.S. states and Australia;
  • He crossed the Pacific Ocean four times in July alone, and his watch hasn’t been the same since;
  • He wrote three successful grant proposals to the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Australian government, collaborated on Hope’s successful Dow Foundation proposal, and has two more proposals still pending to the Department of Defense and the NSF;
  • He wrote three other grant proposals but received “thanks-but-no-thanks” replies;
  • He published five peer-reviewed papers during the year and submitted three more after classes started this fall; and,
  • He registered a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
peaslee_headshot_small
Dr. Graham Peaslee, Elmer E. Hartgerink Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Science

One last thing, but I’ll wait while you catch your breath…..

  • Dr. Peaslee co-founded a new company— along with Hope colleague, Dr. Peter Boumgarden, assistant professor of economics, and Hope alum, Evelyn Ritter ’15, a mechanical engineer — called University Market Partners (UMP) Analytical that tests for the presence of perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) in consumer products. PFASs — human-made chemicals found in flame retardant, stain- and water-resistant materials such as carpet, furniture fabrics, textiles and outdoor clothing, cosmetics, fire-fighting foam and even the liner of microwave popcorn bags — are concerning for their long environmental lifetimes, bioaccumulation and toxicity, and thus their impact on human and animal life. Another NSF grant got UMP launched, and NSF featured UMP’s work on its website.

 

“Sabbatical is a time to see where you are and where you want to go,” says Dr. Peaslee, who obviously went to a lot of places in mileage and mind. “It’s a time to put your efforts into your passions.”

“When I stop to think about it, it really makes me angry. There are over 500 (PFASs) and only two have been voluntarily removed from the U.S. market,” he says firmly. “No one eats microwave popcorn in my household anymore.”

Since his passions are the environment and chemistry combined, UMP’s creation perfectly explains where Dr. Peaslee’s newest trek is going. His road is mapped by analytic and nuclear chemistry; his destination is science policy as much as science itself. Those microwave popcorn bags with PFASs? Denmark recently removed them from their grocery store shelves. Understandably, Dr. Peaslee would like to see PFASs removed from all food packaging materials in the U.S.

“When I stop to think out it, it really makes me angry. There are over 500 (PFASs) and only two have been voluntarily removed from the U.S. market,” he says firmly. “No one eats microwave popcorn in my household anymore.”

IMG_1627
Hope senior David Lunderberg, right, and Evelyn Ritter, a UMP Analytical co-founder, at work in Dr. Peaslee’s lab.

Most Saturdays — and any other day of the week, really — Dr. Peaslee can be found with a team of students conducting PFAS testing using the Pelletron particle accelerator, a piece of pricey equipment he acquired with an NSF grant in 2004, in his lab on Hope’s campus. The company’s workers take an existing yet refined nuclear process that Dr. Peaslee and Dr. Paul DeYoung, the Kenneth G. Herrick Professor of Physics, discovered about a year ago and tests for PFASs in minutes when once the testing required days. While paying back colleges and universities like Hope for their accelerator’s use, and giving Hope students experience and employment to boot, UMP is just as importantly able to provide a low-cost PFAS screening method for non-profit groups such as The National Resource Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Environmental Working Group. It’s a win-win-win for Hope, the environment and humans.

Of course, Dr. Peaslee’s priority remains teaching and researching at Hope while he runs UMP with his partners. Follow him on Twitter @gfpeaslee. You’ll find his feed full of scientific engagement with students and colleagues, from watershed experiences to cyclotron experiments.

Would you expect anything else from a super-productive professor?

Dr. Graham Peaslee is the Elmer E. Hartgerink Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Science in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at Hope College.

Lights, camera… faculty

KenBrownOnCameraHad you walked into Dr. Ken Brown’s lab early yesterday morning, you would have been witness to this scene: Dr. Brown on camera, enthusiastically sharing his experience as an A. Paul Schaap Research Fellow.

It is always great to hear our faculty express such passion for their work (whether they’re on camera or not!). Every day, that work includes scholarly engagement and one-on-one collaborative research with students.

Recently featured on Hope’s homepage was a story about Dr. Brown, professor of chemistry. After reading it, you’ll understand the depth of collaborative interaction between Hope faculty and their students. You’ll also understand why, to Dr. Brown, it was important that “he never had to choose between research and teaching.”

In the story, Dr. Brown reflects on the instruments in his lab. “The equipment that we have is very impressive, even when you compare it to major research institutions,” he says. “But when you consider small schools like Hope, the amount of research that goes on and the equipment that we have far exceeds other schools, which makes student hands-on training even more feasible.”

As critical as they are to scholarship, sophisticated lab instruments do not singularly define Hope College as a community of scholars. And, well-equipped academic facilities alone have not made Hope a recognized leader in undergraduate research. At the heart of our students’ academic experience are the people — including dedicated professors like Dr. Brown.

Breaks Away: Tom Bultman

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope
Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering restoration and adventure both, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

Sheep in New Zealand have a friend in Dr. Tom Bultman. And Dr. Bultman, professor of biology, was happy to oblige the massive, wooly industry that is valuable in a country where sheep outnumber humans by about 10-to-1.

TomBultman
Dr. Tom Bultman, professor of biology at Hope College

Funded by a National Science Foundation grant and headquartered at AgResearch just outside of Christchurch, Dr. Bultman spent three months in the spring of 2015 investigating the growth and effects of endophytic fungus inside perennial ryegrass, the mainly foraged food source found in New Zealand paddocks. His research findings may eventually ensure that New Zealand’s ovine population (and America’s too) can eat their meals toxin-free.

“Endophytic fungus can produce chemicals in the grasses that can be toxic,” explains Dr. Bultman, who collaborated with six other New Zealand scientists, as well as Hope graduate Kelly Krueger ’14, on the project. “So it makes sense that ridding the grasses of those fungi and possible toxins is important to farmers in New Zealand and the U.S. because the effects of the fungi are pronounced in these two part of the world.”

Dr. Bultman and associates also looked at the alkaloid levels — the presences of nitrogenous compounds — in damaged grass and the insect impact on that grass as well. In other words, when ryegrass is walked on by sheep hooves or torn by the sheep’s teeth, what alkaloid, if any, would be produced and how would insects respond to it?

“We found that one variety of fungus actually produced reduced alkaloids in damaged grass, probably due to the sheep’s saliva,” Dr. Bultman says.

So in layman’s terms, sheep spit is actually a good thing.

“I’m a pretty simple guy, I admit,” he replies when asked what he appreciated most about his break away, “so sabbaticals are the chance to simplify, to focus on one thing for a big block of time. This research is new and novel, and I can’t wait to write it up.”

With most of his findings in hand, Dr. Bultman will now begin to author his work for publication in scholarly journals such as PLOS Biology. In fact, he’s anxious to do so.

“I’m a pretty simple guy, I admit,” he replies when asked what he appreciated most about his break away, “so sabbaticals are the chance to simplify, to focus on one thing for a big block of time. This research is new and novel, and I can’t wait to write it up.”

Dr. Tom Bultman is a professor in the Biology Department at Hope College.

Carbon Molecules and Pink Flamingos

Dr. Jeff Johnson is an award-winning Hope College chemist with a complex sounding research focus — carbon-carbon single bond activation and the development of transition metal catalyzed methodologies.

Dr. Jeff Johnson, Associate Professor of Chemistry and 2015 Dreyfus Scholar-Teacher Award Winner

Yet, here is the simplest fact of the matter: Dr. Johnson’s research and teaching agenda— for which he is a winner of the prestigious 2015 Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award — is creative, ambitious and elementally fun too.

You see, in Dr. Johnson’s laboratory, carbon-containing molecules AND an inflatable pink flamingo can effortlessly cohabitate without pretense or hesitation. Both are indicators of a researcher and teacher serious about organic molecular demolition and Hope student education.

“Oh, the flamingo is a holdover from Aloha Day a couple years ago,” Dr. Johnson confides, standing next to his lab’s experimental mascot. “Each summer I encourage the students to have a theme week, and they can decorate their desk area and dress up for the themes as well. There is still serious chemistry going on, of course, but this gives them a chance to have some fun, too.”

Welcome to Dr. Johnson's office.
Welcome to Dr. Johnson’s office.

Mind you, it’s not that an intensive, 10-week, 50-hour-per-week summer research program isn’t fun in and of itself. Sometimes you just need a pink flamingo around to lighten the mood.

The hard, fun work in Dr. Johnson’s lab centers around the development of new methods of taking a variety of larger, organic molecules and chopping them down. This is done with the potential of testing those lopped-off parts for biological activity. It’s a very difficult and intricate process that could eventually have application in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical worlds, for instance.

“Stable bonds are why you and I exist, right? That’s why we don’t turn into blobs. So what we are trying to do is find ways that we can break these stable bonds. That’s the carbon-carbon activation part… What our method has the promise of doing is taking a complex structure and chopping off little parts of it that then can be tested (for future application).”

More than 50 students have come alongside Dr. Johnson in his lab since he arrived at Hope in 2007, with (another) celebrated Dreyfus award in tow (for faculty start-up). Since then he’s accumulated more than $1 million in funding from the National Science Foundation, the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the American Chemical Society, and of course, the Dreyfus Foundation. A number of those 50 students have advanced onto present their findings at national conferences or co-authored articles in professional journals as well.

“We have future physicians, researchers, teachers and even business managers working right alongside each other. I’ll take anyone who is interested in the research and find a spot for them.” — Dr. Jeff Johnson

And in a show of both fondness and pride, Dr. Johnson displays eight years’ worth of Hope student-researchers’ group photos in his office, very near those of his three young children, a remembrance of the bonds made in relationships if not in carbon.

“It can be a madhouse in here with 12 students working together,” he says. “But it’s great because I have an open-door policy. We have future physicians, researchers, teachers and even business managers working right alongside each other. I’ll take anyone who is interested in the research and find a spot for them.” (But they do at least have to have taken General Chemistry, though most have completed Organic Chemistry as well.)

PropProject
Dr. Johnson’s “Propose a Project” board

While Dr. Johnson guides his students’ researching process, he gives them room to lead, too. His student-researchers can “propose a project” and hash it out on a dedicated whiteboard. Like his use of theme week, Dr. Johnson puts an emphasis on student creativity and engagement to enhance excitement and dedication. The former musician in him (he played the trumpet and tuba through college) can’t help but give students the chance to appreciate the sound of carbon molecules falling to pieces.

“I want my students to get an appreciation of the process (of research),” says Dr. Johnson, who also regularly teaches courses in organic and inorganic chemistry. “In classroom labs, our experiments are designed to work. But as soon as you get into research, it doesn’t work. Well, most of the time it doesn’t work. And it’s the not working that teaches students just as much as the things that do work. Learning how to take ‘failure’ and turn around and design a new experiment and gain from that — that is my overarching priority and philosophy in research education.”

That and it’s okay to have a pink flamingo, too.

Dr. Jeff Johnson is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Hope College.