Research Communications

Jackson receives NSF CAREER grant for forensic science research, education 

Ohio University chemist will use $562K for development of handheld detector

Jan. 29, 2008

ATHENS, Ohio – Ohio University faculty member Glen Jackson has received a $562,000 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a handheld chemical detection device and to educate high school and college students about forensic science.

The highly competitive national program is designed to support faculty members in the early stages of their careers. Applicants must propose projects that combine research with educational activities.

Jackson, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and his research group will use the five-year grant to develop a new type of portable mass spectrometer. Mass spectrometers are devices that can measure the masses of chemical compounds and can help identify explosives and other materials.

Photo: Glen Jackson

The device could be used by emergency responders, military personnel, forensic scientists, environmental scientists and security personnel at airports and checkpoints.

“It could lead to new and important information regarding national security, crimes, human health and our environment,” Jackson said.

The portable mass spectrometer is expected to be faster and more accurate than ion mobility spectrometers, which are the current chemical screening instruments of choice at most American airports, the scientist explained.

The funds will allow Jackson’s group to develop and construct a prototype of the device, as well as create the software required to run the instrument and record and interpret the data.

“The CAREER grant basically provides a lot of money for us to pursue an area that we wouldn’t be able to explore otherwise. Purchasing all of the equipment to build a new instrument takes a lot of funding and time,” Jackson said.

The scientist also plans to use the portable mass spectrometer for educational outreach to high school students, undergraduate students and other scientists in the field. His team will develop videos for YouTube, laboratory exercises, demonstrations and hands-on activities with the new instrument, which would be small and inexpensive enough for high schools to use.  

 “Our hope is to put the instrument in the hands of high school and undergraduate students and allow them to examine chemicals in their environment,” he said. “By reaching out to students at a younger age, we’re hoping to encourage them to pursue the sciences at a higher level.”

Jackson, who holds a doctoral degree from West Virginia University, has been a faculty member at Ohio University for four years. He previously worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Oak Ridge National Lab.

In the past two years, Ohio University faculty members in the Department of Physics and Astronomy the Department of Mathematics also received NSF CAREER awards for research and education.

Contact: Glen Jackson, (740) 593-0797,; Andrea Gibson, director of research communications, (740) 597-2166,