CHADRON – Chadron State College students in Geoscience courses are able to conduct analysis of solid materials with the college’s first portable X-Ray Fluorescence unit (pXRF) purchased with a grant written by Professor Dr. Mike Leite and Assistant Professor Dr. Tawny Tibbits from the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research: a National Science Foundation program (EPSCoR).

“We were fortunate to be awarded the grant through EPSCoR and to be awarded a 20 percent matching grant through the CSC Research Institute,” Tibbits said.

Thanks to the support, the Geoscience program purchased an Olympus Vanta XRF unit.

Tibbits explained that the unit ejects an X-Ray that excites the electrons. The atoms in the material being analyzed emit a specific light. The unit reads and displays the specific light frequencies that correspond to a specific mineral or element. The XRF can produce precise and accurate chemical data in less than a minute.

“Our unit has two different levels of energy which provides a better picture. It lets us see a wider spectrum of elements on the periodic table. It's really good feature to have when you are looking at unknowns,” Tibbits

The unit is safe for students to use because the X-Ray is focused on the object being analyzed and when it is not touching a sample, the unit powers down. Leite and Tibbits also purchased a benchtop stand that has a lead-lined chamber to analyze materials in classroom or lab settings.

Leite took the pXRF unit to Field Camp this summer where Kaitlyn Smith of Hackberry, Arizona, collected rocks and data for her Capstone II course research.  

During this academic year, Brady McDaniel of Chadron and Rowdy Pfeil of Moorcroft, Wyoming, will use the pXRF unit to analyze items in CSC collections.

“Rowdy is going to analyze and confirm identifications on our meteorite collection. He's going to make sure our irons are iron and our stony irons are, in fact, stony irons,” Tibbits said. “Brady is going to look through some collections in the museum and make sure we understand a bit more about what we've got and check that we have everything correctly identified.”

Tibbits used a pXRF unit during her dissertation in Belize. 

“It was one of the cornerstones of how I was able to analyze granite. Compared to the old method of grinding up the stone, doing all sorts of time consuming and expensive sample prep, and waiting for results from a distant lab, we can now find out data almost instantly and leave the material intact, if needed,” she said. “Within seconds you can get a full chemical output on any solid material. This unit is very accurate.”

Tibbits and Leite have plans to expand use of the pXRF unit, sharing it with faculty and students in the Rangeland program.

“It can produce good results on soil cores and soil samples starting at magnesium and running all the way up through uranium,” Tibbits said.

CSC represented at INBRE conference

CHADRON – Chadron State College was represented at the 2022 Nebraska Institutional Development Award Program (IDeA) Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) Conference in Nebraska City, Nebraska, last month.

CSC student Emmanuella Tchona and CSC alumna Dr. Nisha Durand gave presentations, while alumna Isioma Akwanamnye was honored with the James Turpen INBRE Scholar Award. Professor Dr. Ann Buchmann, mentor of the INBRE students, also attended the conference.

Although CSC student Joshua Kruse conducted summer research as an INBRE student, he was unable to present at the conference.

Tchona gave a presentation about her research seeking an effective treatment of Schistosomiasis, a disease caused by a parasitic worm that affects 250 million people.

She said one-eighth of the world population is at risk of infection and there is only one cure available, Praziquantel, which has several shortcomings.

“Praziquantel is rarely curative, has a short half-life, and is only effective against the younger developmental stage of the worm,” she said.

Her research this summer focused on developing a compound effective against developmental stages of the parasite (young and adult), is curative, and has a reasonable half-life, or time that it is effective.

Tchona said the INBRE summer program was crucial to learning more about research and graduate life.

“It is something I will recommend to all science students regardless of whether they want to obtain a PhD or not. There are other options. Everything you have learned in your preparatory classes will make sense and you will see the direct application of science. You will learn critical thinking and the beauty of failure. I one hundred percent recommend INBRE,” Tchona said.

Durand presented about Becoming a Cellular Therapy Process Development Scientist. She explained her work developing cultured cells for use in clinical therapies at the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Mayo Clinic and about her journey from Dominica to a science career in the U.S.

She is the Principal Research Technologist and Operations Manager at the Human Cellular Therapy Lab-Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Florida. She is responsible for developing processes and techniques in support of all phases of cellular product development, and stem cell production in support of Phase I clinical trials.

Durand graduated from CSC with a bachelor’s in Human Biology in 2012 and went on to earn a doctorate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in 2017.

Akwanamnye received the James Turpen INBRE scholar award in recognition of her dedication and research efforts.

“Receiving the award is a great feeling. Dr. Buchmann has been a supporting teacher and mentor, trusting me to work on the project for the past two years and patiently troubleshooting any problems with the project with me. I wouldn’t be who or where I am without my mentors who have taken the time to teach me and help me grow into the person I am today,” Akwanamnye said.

Akwanamnye joined the INBRE program in April 2020 during the pandemic. She said she was able to conduct meaningful research with Buchmann, working on a Triple-negative breast cancer project with fellow CSC student Lelisse Umeta.

Akwanamnye will attend graduate school at Case Western University working on cancer immunotherapy. Eventually, she plans to return to her native Nigeria to help improve scientific research there.

Buchmann said Akwanamnye is smart, dedicated, enthusiastic, and hard-working.

“She has the desire and drive to make a real difference in the scientific world both here and in Nigeria,” Buchmann said.

Buchmann said it is a privilege to watch her students grow into confident professionals in scientific fields.

Kraatz co-authors article about controversial subjects in the classroom

CHADRON – An article co-authored by Chadron State College Assistant Professor Dr. Elizabeth Kraatz was published in the July issue of Theory Into Practice. The peer-reviewed journal is designed for teachers and administrators to support the application of educational research to educational practice.

In the abstract to the study, Kraatz, and her co-authors Jacqueline von Spiegel, Robin Sayers, and Anna C. Brady, write the goal of the article is to highlight the benefits of controversial conversations in the classroom and describe teaching approaches that facilitate effective controversial conversations.

Although controversial topics may be uncomfortable for teachers to include in class discussions, Kraatz and her colleagues write that there are considerable cognitive and social-emotional benefits to engagement in classroom discussions about controversial topics.

The authors write that teachers’ support of students in respectful discussions is crucial to help them develop skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and the ability to consider issues from multiple perspectives. They continue that these skills can enable students to meet larger goals such as being involved in civic boards and councils.

Kraatz and her co-authors first identify important factors for teachers to consider as part of supporting effective and beneficial controversial conversations. Then, they provide examples of conversation topics appropriate for students of different ages. Lastly, they review how the structure of conversation, scaffolding, classroom context, relationships, and students’ individual differences can shape controversial conversations.

Kraatz teaches courses in Psychology, Educational Psychology, and Developmental Psychology. Before joining the CSC faculty in Fall 2021, she taught adult education classes in Ohio for several years and earned a doctorate in Educational Psychology from Ohio State.