Campus: Long Beach -- January 12, 2006

Cal State Long Beach Research Institute Receives Equipment Purchase Grant from Pinpoint Institute

An innovative California State University, Long Beach research institute is improving its ability to determine the age of ancient archaeological and geological materials, thanks to an equipment purchase grant from a foundation started by a high tech venture capital investment group with investors from Seattle, the Bay Area and Hawaii.

CSULB’s Institute for Integrated Research in Materials, Environments and Society (IIRMES) is an interdisciplinary center laboratory that uses cutting-edge scientific technology to explore scientific questions related to changes in the natural environment, living systems as well as human societies. Faculty from areas including geology, anthropology, chemistry and biology are sharing equipment and expertise both within the CSULB campus as well as with other universities.

Along with laboratories in elemental and molecular microanalysis, spectroscopy and proteomics, one of the specializing facilities in IIRMES is the Luminescence Dating Laboratory, the only laboratory of its kind in California and only one of 12 luminescence laboratories in the United States. Directed by Dr. Carl Lipo, assistant professor of anthropology, the lab uses state-of-the-art instruments to measure natural radioactivity accumulated in materials over time.

“The trapped energy is released in the form of luminescence upon exposure to sufficient heat or light,” he explained. “For ceramics, this usually corresponds to when the ceramic was made, or in the case of some cooking ware, when it was last used. For sediments, this corresponds to when the sediments were last exposed to sunlight.”

Lipo also is associated with the Pinpoint Venture Group, a San Francisco-based technology venture capital investment group. Several of its principals have science and research backgrounds and formed a foundation called the Pinpoint Institute for Scientific Cultural Evolution Studies (PISCES), said its director, Mark Madsen, a partner in Pinpoint Ventures.

“PISCES supports a wide range of research into human history, cultural evolution and the evolutionary process, with geographic interests spanning the globe.” PISCES is a virtual funding organization, able to facilitate the channeling of tax-deductible donations to researchers and projects associated with the study of scientific cultural evolution regardless of their location or institutional affiliation.

“In the first phase of our efforts, we have focused on testing the ‘virtual’ foundation model with CSULB by supporting the research of Dr. Carl Lipo and his colleagues and students,” Madsen said. “In the last year or so, we have provided approximately $25,000 in support of two projects of importance to both IIRMES and the Department of Anthropology.

For the first project, PISCES provided funds to acquire a new alpha irradiator. “This instrumentation directly contributes to our ability to generate precise dates on ceramics and sediments and allows us to build chronologies in the archaeological record,” Lipo said. “The second round of funding provided by PISCES builds additional infrastructure for the Luminescence Laboratory.”

Lipo’s major projects include the dating of prehistoric ceramics from the western Great Basin and from the Mississippi River valley. Lipo is also exploring the possibility of dating material samples from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to learn more about the chronology of the construction of the famed moai statutes. Additional IIRMES projects utilizing the luminescence lab include dating ceramic sherds from the American Southwest native cultures and sediment samples that contribute to an understanding of geological processes.

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