Tom Fisher, Analytical Chemistry

Although I started out as a biochemist, Dr. Ruth Reed (my wife) now teaches the biochemistry courses and I focus on analytical chemistry. That's one of the great things about Juniata: my students and I have the freedom (and the equipment) to investigate whatever area seems interesting and challenging to us.

The best overall description of my research activities is the application of emerging technologies to the design of new chemical instrumentation. For example, there's recently been a recognition among public health officials that very small amounts of lead in an infant's body can cause serious brain damage. So monitoring the lead levels in the environment has become a national priority. This massive effort requires portable, inexpensive equipment which is not available.

I’ve developed an electrochemical device which plugs into the ubiquitous IBM PC and monitors lead levels in the parts per billion range:

We can build this lead detector for $250 (plus computer), whereas current instrumentation costs from $6,000 to $250,000.

Some other current projects which I’m looking for students to advance:

A quartz crystal microbalance which can detect 1 ppb benzene in the atmosphere.

“Lab-on-a-chip” which can perform micellular electrokinetic chromatography on a microscope slide.

An inexpensive photometer for monitoring enzyme kinetics.

If you work for me, I expect you to exercise a considerable amount of independence, so you're free to emphasize the facet of the project which most interests you.  That could be computer hardware (PIC microcontrollers and advanced sensors), programming (in PIC assembler or Visual BASIC), or chemistry (analytical protocols and exotic materials).

Oh yes, in my spare time I: teach a course called Analytical Chemistry (where my students get to learn about and use advanced instrumentation), advise the Chemistry Club, and maintain the Chemistry Department's instrumentation including a $225,000, 300 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, and a $150,000 liquid chromatograph/mass spectrometer.  I seldom get to use these behemoths, but my students taking Analytical Chemistry (a sophomore-level course) become virtuosos. Otherwise, they would never identify the diabolically clever unknowns I give them!