HOLLAND, Mich. — Two Hope College professors have received a grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant will be used to study the affect of air pollution on birds.
The grant was awarded to Dr. Kelly Ronald and Dr. Natalia Gonzalez-Pech. Dr. Ronald is an assistant professor of biology. Dr. Gonzalez-Pech is an assistant professor of chemistry. The grant was awarded as part of the National Science Foundation’s new initiative “Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO)”. Ronald’s and Gonzalez-Pech’s grant, is one of two BRC-BIO program grants that have been awarded to Hope College. In total, 20 grants have been awarded throughout the country.
The three-year grant will be used for an interdisciplinary study of how house sparrows are affected by a specific type of air pollution: iron oxide nanoparticles (IONPs). Iron oxide nanoparticles are floating bits of iron, which is generated by the iron and steel industries, that are so small that a standard microscope cannot see them.
“The overarching hypothesis is IONPs exposure will disrupt the [birds’] behavior by either detrimentally affecting auditory sensory processing and/or through bioaccumulation of nanoparticles,” said the two professors.
The first objective will be to test the prediction that iron oxide particles exposure decreases hearing sensitivity for the sparrows. The second is to test the prediction that the particles alter species-relevant behaviors. The third objective is to localize and quantify the accumulation of iron oxide particles in relevant organs.
Dr. Ronald and Dr. Gonzalez-Pech say that establishing that iron oxide nanoparticles negatively affect house sparrows could have implications for everything that breathes air. They say that IONPs have been found in the brain tissue of people in London and Mexico City, which are locations with a high amount of industrial activity.
Prior to the grant from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Ronald and Dr. Gonzalez-Pech conducted research on the topic for a year and a half. They have also received funding from the Michigan Space Grant Consortium and Hope’s Nyenhuis Collaborative Grant. Six Hope College students will work with them on their research team.