(Carson, CA) – California State University, Dominguez Hills’ Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has received a $275,000 grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to purchase state-of-the art biotechnology equipment and use it to address the lack of diversity of underrepresented students in life science majors.
“We are excited and grateful to have the support of the W.M. Keck Foundation,” said CSUDH Assistant Professor of Chemistry Patrick Still, who co-wrote the grant with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Arumugam Thangavel and Associate Professor of Chemistry and Department Chair Kenneth Rodriguez. “This additional investment by Keck will help elevate the university’s profile as a resource for chemical instrumentation in the region, and better equip our department to prepare workforce-ready graduates.”
The Keck Foundation grant will support CSUDH’s acquisition of three new instruments: a differential scanning calorimeter, which measures heat flow associated with thermal transitions in a material; an isothermal titration calorimeter that provides binding data for biomolecular interactions of interest; and a circular dichroism spectrometer, useful for analyzing drug-like molecule stereochemistry.
With the new equipment, CSUDH’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry faculty will integrate biotechnology-relevant laboratory experiments for students into its programs. These experiments, conducted by industry personnel, will mirror chemical experiments done at the parent company, but have the benefit of being done in CSUDH chemistry lab courses.
“Having the opportunity for students to work with this technology will not only increase their knowledge of chemical instrumentation within our three chemistry programs, but will give our students a significant head start,” said Still, who will serve as principal investigator on the grant. “By the time they graduate, they will have the skillset needed for employment at any number of biotech companies in California.”
Through the grant, the department will also promote research opportunities that utilize the newly acquired instrumentation to attract more underrepresented students to major in chemistry and help prepare them for work in the biotech industry. According to a 2018 survey of nearly 10,000 job postings in which chemical analysis was a top skill in California’s life science occupations, African American and Latinx employees represent less than 7 percent of the biotech workforce.
CSUDH has the largest population of African American students in the California State University system, and one of the largest number of Latinx students in the state, making the university well positioned to address the disparity.
The Keck Foundation’s total grant distribution to CSUDH since 2012 has been $775,000. The foundation’s first grant of $200,000 enabled CSUDH to acquire a mass spectrometer.
“This latest round of funding from Keck brings our department a step closer to achieving the original goal of establishing a chemical instrumentation center. We continue to welcome partnerships to assemble a complete array of chemical instrumentation that would allow us to serve our campus and other potential education and industry partners in the South Bay,” said Still.