Bertram team wins Beckman Foundation funding for mass spectrometry for atmospheric monitoring

Professor Tim Bertram and Postdoc Researcher Steve Kregel with one of the compact instruments they are designing and testing with Beckman Foundation funding.

Professor Tim Bertram is leading a team that will receive $890,000 from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation for mass spectrometry for atmospheric monitoring. The University of Wisconsin–Madison team will use the funding to develop a new compact, low-cost mass spectrometer for atmospheric monitoring of volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere. The final instruments will be used to assess air pollution throughout Wisconsin.

“Beyond the development of new technology, the project has a significant collaborative component with other UW campuses and weaves into our existing chemical instrumentation undergraduate program in analytical chemistry,” explains Bertram.

The UW–Madison team is a collaborative effort of Professor Tim Bertram, Postdoc Researcher Steve Kregel, and Laboratory Director Rob McClain of UW–Madison’s Department of Chemistry; Professor Keith Beyer of the University of Wisconsin–LaCrosse, and Professor Patti Cleary of the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.  Steve Kregel will soon be joining Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. as an assistant professor, but will remain a part of the project team.

The Beckman Foundation has created this grant to underscore the “foundation’s mission of supporting research breakthroughs in chemistry and the life sciences, and fostering the invention of methods, instruments, and materials that open new avenues of research and applications in these sciences and related disciplines.” A total of three institutions were selected to receive a total of $3 million paid in yearly installments over three years. The grant will support prototype design development that offers the most advanced mass spectrometry detection capabilities and sensitivity levels in lightweight, inexpensive, and easily operable systems for mobile monitoring. 

“Our intent for this program is to support scientists, with a focus on undergraduates, to become inventors and innovators in this compelling area of research by building tools and instruments,” explained Dr. Anne Hultgren, Beckman Foundation’s Executive Director. “Miniaturizing mass spectrometers has been an active area of research for many years. If successful, the prototype monitoring systems developed by our awardee teams could have a lasting impact on informing policy decisions on sources of pollution, improving indoor and outdoor air quality, and furthering the democratization of access to clean air around the world.”

QuantAQ’s Modulair sensors measure small and large particulate matter that can contribute to serious health problems. Photo credit: Amber Arnold, Wisconsin State Journal

Professor Bertram also serves as part of the leadership team set to expand the air quality monitoring of the city of Madison, Wisconsin. According to Bertram, “This would make Madison the most monitored community in Wisconsin with regard to particulate matter.” The project’s $430,0000 funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of being approved by Madison’s City Council. Once the city budget is amended to accept the EPA funding, the project plans to boost the number of air quality monitoring devices in the city from two to 68. The new devices will provide detailed, real-time information at the neighborhood level to address health disparities.