Hector Neff, a professor of anthropology at CSULB, received a pair of grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Dartmouth College to support research performed in the campus' Institute for Integrated Research in Materials, Environments and Society (IIRMES).
The first NSF grant for $84,141 will support solid-sample inorganic analysis facilities for archaeological research. The second grant, worth $16,144, will fund a subcontract for collaborative research from the NSF and Dartmouth College.
"Grants like these raise the profile of Cal State Long Beach as a research institution and especially as a teaching-intensive research institution," said Neff, a faculty member at CSULB since 2002. "It allows us to involve both graduate and undergraduate students in collaborative research projects. These experiences are the kind they will take with them into their future careers, and that is true not only for the specific skills they learn, but the idea that science is a collaborative endeavor."
IIRMES extends existing interdisciplinary research collaborations between faculty and students from CSULB's College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the College of Liberal Arts. The institute's principal goal is to enhance the educational and research opportunities of students and faculty members who wish to pursue academic studies in a new interdisciplinary field that attempts to integrate the physical, natural and social sciences.
IIRMES houses a variety of state-of-the-art analytical instruments including three inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometers (ICP-MS), one coupled to a New Wave UP213 laser ablation system, an analytical environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) and a luminescence dating laboratory.
"The ICP-MS instruments and the ESEM are useful to archaeologists for analysis of their materials," Neff explained. "They are sensitive to a wide range of trace elements as well as major and minor elements. The equipment allows archaeologists to perform chemical profiling in order to match artifacts with source raw materials. That way, archaeologists can investigate things like human mobility patterns, trade, technology and other aspects of the human past."
The equipment is useful to archaeologists but expensive. "Not all universities have them and even fewer have them available to archaeologists," Neff said. "Even a university that has all those instruments has them in a chemist's lab and what does he care about archaeology? Because the chemist doesn't care about the archaeological question, he doesn't design the analysis so that it is likely to provide any useful information. What we feel we have to offer here, and one of the reasons we got the proposal, is that co-principal investigators Carl Lipo in anthropology and John Dudgeon of IIRMES and I are archaeologists. That way, it is more likely to have an information payoff for archaeologists."
The second grant stems from research Neff began 20 years ago at the University of Missouri and is connected with Dartmouth College colleague Deborah Nichols. Her research into prehistoric ceramics from the basin of Mexico (where Mexico City is now located) involves instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) of Aztec and pre-Aztec pottery and clays. The current project focuses on the site of Cerro Portezuelo, which was occupied for at least 1,000 years prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The INAA study will be conducted at the University of Missouri, and Neff will undertake the statistical analysis of the resulting data.
"What we're seeking is a picture of what materials were coming into Cerro Portezuelo and how the sources and trade relationships of this one site changed over time," he said.
Neff is pleased the grant continues its support for student research. "I hope our students acquire an appreciation for the scientific method by participating in these grants," he said. "I want them to learn how to design an experiment or a series of analyses that will test a hypothesis. And I especially hope our students gain an appreciation of how analytical techniques can be used to test the things we think we know about the past."