(Left to right) Technician Erik Johnson, Lab Manager Tara Holitzki and Professor of Marine Science Tracy Wiegner stand next to the new isotope ratio mass spectrometer, UH Hilo Analytical Labratory.

In 2016, the Analytical Laboratory at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo was awarded a grant of more than half-a-million dollars from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the purchase and support of a new isotope ratio mass spectrometer.

The Analytical Laboratory is a hub for research and training on Hawaiʻi Island. The lab’s primary focus is supporting ecological research and water quality studies by providing analytical services to researchers in the UH System and federal and state agencies. The lab also provides analytical services for visiting researchers from other universities. It is the only facility on Hawaiʻi Island that trains students to use analytical instrumentation for environmental sample analysis.

UH Hilo’s isotope ratio mass spectrometer is the only one of its kind in the state and region. It is capable of analyzing both solids and liquids including soils, plant and animal tissues and water.

Specifically, the new spectrometer can analyze solid samples (soil, plant and animal tissue, carbonates) for stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, hydrogen and oxygen. Liquid samples (water catchment, shore water) can be analyzed for stable nitrogen and oxygen isotopes in nitrate, hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in water, and stable carbon isotopes in dissolved organic carbon and carbon dioxide.

The award is granted through the NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation Program, which, according to the NSF website, supports “research-intensive learning environments that promote the development of a diverse workforce and next generation instrumentation, as well as facilitates academic and private sector partnerships.”

Collaborators on the grant include researchers from UH Hilo, UH Mānoa, the USDA Forest Service, Stanford University, Utah State University and Edith Cowen University Western Australia.

Erik Johnson, an analytical laboratory technician with bachelor and master degrees from UH Hilo, will be leading the effort to get the new isotope ratio mass spectrometer up and running.

More about the UH Hilo Analytical Lab

The Analytical Laboratory is managed by Tara Holitzki under the direction of Tracy Wiegner, a professor of marine science who specializes in coastal water quality.

Wiegner says applications of stable isotopes in environmental science have grown exponentially in the last 20 years allowing for a greater understanding of biogeochemical cycles in natural and human-influenced ecosystems, food web structure and dynamics, animal migrations, paleoclimate, hydrology, as well as the ability to identify pollution sources and track them.

“This instrument allows for a new suite of elements in different forms to be analyzed, substantially increasing the types of studies and student training the UH Hilo Analytical Laboratory can support in and out of state,“ Wiegner explains.

Wiegner says the awarding of the grant speaks to the growing success of the lab facility. The laboratory was established in 2003 with NSF funding through the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research or EPSCoR, a statewide program initiated at UH Hilo to increase research and training infrastructure.

“This lab facility is hands down the greatest NSF EPSCoR success story at UH Hilo,” says Wiegner.

The lab has a statewide and international reputation for high quality and rapid services. There is an established, loyal clientele, which includes faculty and researchers from UH Hilo and UH Mānoa, as well as other state, national and international institutions and agencies.

For more on the lab, read the full article on UH Hilo Stories.

—A UH Hilo Stories article.

—By Susan Enright