Concordia Receives National Science Foundation Grant to Study Iron Oxides and Environmental Magnetism

Dr. Thelma Berquó, principal investigator for NSF grant

The National Science Foundation awarded a $303,000 Major Research Instrumentation grant to Concordia College to acquire equipment for geophysical and magnetic materials research. The cryogenic physical properties measurement system has a superconducting magnet and can measure electrical, magnetic, and thermal properties of materials over a broad temperature range (50 to 1000 kelvin).

“This is a big deal for Concordia because this instrument is usually only found at large research universities,” says Dr. Thelma Berquó, associate professor of physics and principal investigator for the grant. “I have been dreaming about this for years and am beyond happy that it is now a reality.”

Iron oxides have important technological, medical, and environmental applications. Berquó says more data will give scientists a deeper understanding of the world around us.

“Iron phases are not just in soils and rocks,” Berquó adds. “Birds use them in migration to follow the earth’s magnetic field. Iron is essential for the human body. It’s even inside our computers and cellphones. Plus, there’s so much still to learn for future applications.”

The first step to any future application is knowledge. As a scientist working with fundamental problems, Berquó has been studying the properties of iron and its chemical compounds in magnetic materials since grad school.

In addition to advancing her research, Berquó will use the equipment while teaching advanced physics labs, materials science, and geology courses, furthering Concordia’s mission to train the next generation of scientists using modern technology and laboratory techniques.

“This will give students an amazing opportunity to use research-grade equipment that is not normally available at a liberal arts college,” she says.

Higher education institutions in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota will also have access to the device as will area companies looking for help with researching production materials.    

Berquó credits co-principal investigator Dr. James Lee, a former faculty member at Concordia, for his help in securing the NSF grant.  

The NSF, which funds research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities, is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense.”

More information about the award can be found here.

Read more about Concordia's physics department.