Since its inception, the USDA-ARS Toledo worksite has sought to collaborate with a wide variety of groups with specialties and expertise that the ARS group does not yet have. Over time, this has resulted in collaborative research being done along with researchers from as far away as Oregon State University, the University of Florida, the University of New Hampshire, and many points in between. But our strongest (and most convenient) collaborator has been the faculty from various departments at the University of Toledo (UT).
Beginning in 2005, the Toledo-ARS group began setting up equipment and developing expertise to measure plant nutrients, silicon, and heavy metals in plant tissue, water, nutrient solution, soilless media, and soils, all for research projects within the group and cooperators. One group of cooperators is the College of Engineering at UT, who often have sensitive analytical needs an order of magnitude or greater than that required for most crop production applications. For example, finding trace contaminants in thin-film polymers can help identify manufacturing errors and opportunities for improvements in applications such as solar panel manufacturing, drug delivery, and controlled release chemical delivery. More sensitive equipment is needed, but at the same time, technical expertise dedicated to the equipment operation makes any new measurement venture feasible.
Dr. Arun Nadarajah, Professor and Chair of the Department of Bioengineering at UT, successfully wrote a series of proposals that established a Center for Materials and Sensor Characterization (http://www.eng.utoledo.edu/cmsc/). This Center has many state of the art instruments including several electron microscopes and spectrometer for microstructural, chemical, and thermal characterization in the fields of materials, biological and environmental sciences. He also knew that the ARS group had the necessary expertise to enhance the operational quality of an Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS), an instrument that can detect elements in some cases, including plant essential elements, down to parts per trillion concentrations. After many discussions on the feasibility of purchasing the equipment and its potential usefulness to the Center and ARS, it was decided to locate the ICP-MS in the ARS lab, have ARS staff operate the instrument, and have an official connection to the new Center
| For nutritional plant sciences at ARS-Toledo, this is wonderful news. In theory, sample sizes can be much smaller (a flower petal would be sufficient instead of dozens of flowers, or a root tip rather than several root systems), and trace micronutrients such as Mo and Ni can be detected accurately. Other issues such as heavy metal toxicity (arsenic, for example) can be researched, and important questions about water quality can be addressed in different ways. It will take some time educating ourselves on the instrument's use, capabilities, and limitations. Of course, the core mission for this equipment is still in support of UT's newly established Center, but the connection between groups through this instrument results is a win-win for both research programs.|