Summer Research Presentations | Spotlight

Summary of summer in ‘Identifying Nitrate’

Joan Torres and Maria Vazquez will present results on their summer research, entitled “Identifying Nitrate in Pollutant Water Samples,” Friday, Aug. 28, 1 p.m., at the Physical Sciences lobby, first floor.

The Cal State L.A. Summer Student Research Presentation will also feature poster projects by other students in the chemistry REU program, as well as by participants in the National Institutes of Health-Summer Bridges Program and the Partnership for Research and Education in Materials. For event info, call Scott Nickolaisen, Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, at (323) 343-2382.

Research opportunities arrive early at CSULA

The first NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program at Cal State L.A. began more than 20 years ago. (Led for a decade by Professor Anthony Fratiello, it focused on biochemistry and chemistry.) Starting officially June 1, 2009, the latest REU program at Cal State L.A. focuses on energy and sustainability. Here’s the project’s abstract:

Meanwhile, many other opportunities exist on campus for undergraduates to enter the realm of significant research:

Cal State L.A.’s Chemistry and Biochemistry REU Program gives research opportunities to community college students from the Los Angeles region. The program introduces students to research early in their academic careers so they will be motivated to continue pursuing the chemical sciences. It also exposes them to potential career options. Participants work alongside CSULA faculty and other students for ten weeks during the summer. For details, go to /

The CSULA-Caltech Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) Collaborative was established with support from the National Science Foundation to enhance diversity in materials science research and education in the Southern California. It fosters nurturing interactions between faculty and students at Cal State L.A. and Caltech that advance the discovery and understanding of new materials. It seeks to develop highly trained undergraduate and master’s students for careers in materials research and to involve talented high school students from local schools to conduct summer research at Cal State L.A. For details, go to /dept/

The Bridges to the Future Program is a collaborative between Cal State L.A. and three two-year community colleges (Pasadena City College, Los Angeles City College, and East Los Angeles College) to increase the transfer of minority students talented in the biomedical science disciplines to Cal State L.A. Funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the program provides community college students a chance to interact closely with Cal State L.A. faculty in laboratory research throughout the academic year and summer. For details, go to /

Wading in the world of watershed research

With NSF support, Cal State L.A. gives Torres, Vazquez opportunity to study urban runoff in Santa Monica Bay

Pictured: (l-r) Monica Vazquez and Joan Torres.

While others spent the summer on the beach, Maria Vazquez (left) and Joan Torres (right) spent ten weeks analyzing the water that heads into Santa Monica Bay, specifically the runoff from the Ballona Creek watershed in Los Angeles.

For Torres and Vazquez, it was their first big chance to get their feet wet in scientific research. Guided by Cal State L.A. Chemistry Professor Krishna Foster, the pair used ion chromatography to measure the amount of nitrate and nitrite in samples of the urban waters that feed into ocean next to one of L.A.’s most popular stretches of sand.

Vazquez and Torres were participants in a National Science Foundation-funded program at Cal State L.A. that introduces undergraduates to chemical analysis and field study. The program is one of several at Cal State L.A. supported by NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program.

Ballona Creek, a nine-mile-long flood-protection channel, drains about 130 square miles within the Los Angeles basin, gathering water—and whatever’s in it—from a network of storm drains and other sources. An interface between the polluted urban environment and the marine ecosystem, Ballona Creek is the greatest source of urban runoff to Santa Monica Bay.

In their research, Torres and Vazquez were looking for excess nitrate and nitrite, which can harm wildlife by disturbing the natural balance of nutrients in the ecosystem.

“For example,” said Foster, “nitrite ions are the main cause of toxicity in aquatic animals, particularly in fish and crayfish, causing hypoxia (diminished oxygen levels) and ultimately death. Moreover, nitrate is an important nutrient for plants and microorganisms. Too much can spur overgrowth, and then the ultimate decay of plant life disturbs the balance of dissolved oxygen in waterbodies, which impacts aquatic animal life as well.”

According to Foster, trace-level concentrations of nitrite (between 1.7 and 2.2 micromolar) are considered harmful for sensitive aquatic animal and humans.

Air-pollution particulates and residential and commercial fertilizers are sources of nitrates and nitrites in Los Angeles.

Picture of Joan Torres.Torres, a chemistry major from Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, said, “I had the opportunity to go out in the field and collect water samples—one liter bottle of water from three different sites of the watershed. This REU program provided me a foundation for my research career in the science field. It was unforgettable and the best summer of my life!” Torres is transferring to Cal State L.A. next fall.

Picture of Maria Vazquez.Vazquez, chemical engineering major from East Los Angeles College, ultimately wants to work in an environmental protection agency. She said, “I am very interested in research that would help the ecosystem and environment.” And she’s eager for more research. “I would like to work with Dr. Foster on another research project studying the components of phosphate.”

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