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Research: Accelerated Solvent Extractor

News Story

Associate Professor of Chemistry and Physical Sciences Elmer-Rico Mojica discusses the research value of one of Pace’s shiny new toys, and how it can help researchers at Pace make a positive difference.

Through the invention of the telescope several centuries ago, humans were able to make remarkable leaps in understanding both ourselves and the scientific realities of our world. While today’s high-tech instruments may not garner the notoriety of the first telescopes, they are undoubtedly crucial to continual discovery and research innovation. 

One of the unsung instruments of today is the accelerated solvent extractor (ASE), a machine used to separate different components within a complex sample, and get a better understanding on composition of a more complex mixture sample. This instrument is now present at Pace, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation (NSF-MRI) program, which was recently awarded to Dyson Associate Professor Elmer-Rico Mojica, PhD.

“The accelerated solvent extractor is an instrument that aids in sample preparation and sample pretreatment steps. Usually, it adds pressure in extraction,” says Mojica. “At a higher pressure, the extraction is much better—you raise the pressure or temperature, there will be more materials that will get removed from a given sample. It’s a cooling type of extraction portal, similar to how you might make coffee or tea. We can say it's the Keurig of solvent extraction.” 

In other words, the extractor could be used to separate components of an energy bar, or pollutants from soil or sediment, based on the solubility of the solvent used. 

“There are many things that can be done using this instrument. We have environmental samples, like soil, that are complex materials. Soil contrains many materials, and sometimes the ones we want to analyze—the so-called pollutants—they’re present in small amounts so they’re being overshadowed by materials present in larger amounts. By using the extraction solvent, you can  get more of the pollutants in a given sample and analyze it.”

The solvent extractor improves and expedites the extraction process, which makes it a very effective way to analyze samples in both the research and classroom setting. Because of the obvious educational benefits, Mojica is already planning to implement the extractor into his upper level chemistry courses. 

“We have a course CHEM 331: Instrumental Methods. We will develop an experiment, where students have the chance to use the instrument in an experiment. The one we’re planning—students usually perform an experiment in organic chemistry where they extract caffeine from tea leaves. We’re going to utilize and compare how much caffeine they can extract using the traditional method (putting the tea leaves in hot water), and compare with using the solvent extractor, with elevated pressure and temperature. This way, students will be introduced to high end instruments available in industries.” 

Mojica also plans to apply the accelerated solvent extractor to the ongoing work he and his students and peers are currently conducting. Through the undergraduate student-faculty research grant, for example, Mojica has been working with Josephine Farshi ’19 to compare bee propolis from around the world by characterizing them, or identifying the components and determining some activities they possess, using different analytical methods. Through this research, Farshi hopes to better examine and understand health-related benefits of different forms of propolis. 

Additionally, Mojica is planning on using the instrument for major initiatives at Pace and our immediate surroundings—such as the Billion Oyster Project (BOP), a large-scale sustainability project Pace has supported over the past several years. Through an ongoing National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, Pace has been able to partner with New York City public school students from underrepresented communities and create practical and exciting learning environments with direct positive impact. The accelerated solvent extractor will prove useful to BOP, as Mojica will utilize the instrument to better understand and analyze sediments to determine pollutant levels. 

Mojica notes that although there are many current applications and uses for the accelerated solvent extractor, it will prove to be useful throughout the coming academic years. Given its ability to qualitatively and quantitatively improve the research process, both students and professors alike can use it to help improve both their own research, and the overall research profile of Pace.