Associate Professor of Chemistry, Biochem & Environ Studies
Molly Costanza-Robinson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Program for Environmental Studies. She came to Middlebury in 2005 after postdoctoral research and teaching in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Northern Arizona University. She received her Ph.D. in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science with a minor in Analytical Chemistry at The University of Arizona in 2001, and a B.S. in Chemistry and German Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1996.
Professor Costanza-Robinson's lab investigates physicochemical processes influencing the fate and transport of anthropogenic contamination in subsurface environments. Most recently, her lab has been investigating the chemistry governing the uptake of organic contaminants into the interlayer of chemically modified clay minerals. The goal is to use this knowledge to optimize the modification of the clay surface chemistry for use in remediating contaminated water. Other projects include development and application of synchrotron X-ray microtomography-based methods at Argonne National Laboratory's Advanced Photon Source to investigate the air-water interface in porous media, a distinct two-dimensional phase that influences the transport of chemicals and microbes in the subsurface.
More info is available at my website.
Courses offered in the past four years.
▲ indicates offered in the current term
▹ indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]
CHEM 0270 - Environmental Chemistry ▹
In this course we will investigate fundamental physical and chemical processes within soils, natural waters, and the atmosphere that affect the fate and transport of contaminants. Processes to be studied include dissolution, volatilization, sorption, and transformation reactions. Laboratory experiments will explore laboratory, field, and computational methods for pollution monitoring, contaminant characterization, and prediction of pollution fate and transport. (CHEM 0104 or CHEM 0107) 3 hrs. lect., 3 hrs lab
Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014
CHEM 0311 - Instrumental Analysis ▲
This course introduces fundamental concepts of analytical chemistry, instrumental analysis, and scientific writing. Lecture topics include experimental design and quality control; sample collection and preparation; calibration, error, and data analysis; statistics; and the theory and operation of chemical instrumentation. Multi-week laboratory projects provide hands-on experience in qualitative and quantitative analysis using a variety of research-quality instrumentation (e.g., graphite furnace atomic absorption spectroscopy, UV/Vis spectrometry, gas chromatography mass spectrometry, circular dichroism spectroscopy, high pressure liquid chromatography). Writing workshops promote professional scientific writing skills through guided practice in writing analysis, peer review, and revision. (CHEM 0242) 3 hr. lect., 6 hrs. lab.
Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2013
CHEM 0400 - Seminar In Chemical Research ▲
Seminar in Chemical Research
This seminar provides students with experiences to support the preparation of a senior thesis. As the course involves participation in a mentored laboratory project and the intent to complete a senior thesis, students must make arrangements to work with a faculty advisor prior to gaining approval for course registration. The classroom portion of this seminar focuses on reading the scientific literature, giving effective oral presentations, and writing the thesis introduction. Particular emphasis will be given to computer and technology issues related to oral and written presentations. Participation will normally be followed by registration for CHEM 0500 or CHEM 0700 (winter term and spring). (Senior standing; 0300-level CHEM co-requisite; Approval only) 2 hrs. sem., 12 hrs. lab.
CHEM 0500 - Independent Study ▲ ▹
Independent Study Project
Individual study for qualified students. (Approval required)
Fall 2009, Winter 2010, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Winter 2011, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Winter 2012, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Winter 2013, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2014
CHEM 0700 - Senior Research ▲ ▹
In this course students complete individual projects involving laboratory research on a topic chosen by the student and a faculty advisor. Prior to registering for CHEM 0700, a student must have discussed and agreed upon a project topic with a faculty member in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. Attendance at all Chemistry and Biochemistry Department seminars is expected. (Approval required; open only to seniors)
Fall 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Winter 2013, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2014
CHEM 0701 - Senior Thesis ▲ ▹
Students who have initiated research projects in CHEM 0400 and who plan to complete a senior thesis should register for CHEM 0701. Students are required to write a thesis, give a public presentation, and defend their thesis before a committee of at least three faculty members. The final grade will be determined by the department. Attendance at all Chemistry and Biochemistry Department seminars is expected. (CHEM 0400; approval required)
Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2014
CHEM 1003 - Cavemen Chemistry
Beginning with our ancestors’ first control of fire more than a million years ago and sparked by numerous chance discoveries since, humans have transformed mundane natural materials into incredibly useful goods. Mud into ceramics! Stone into bronze tools! Using Caveman Chemistry as our guide, we will create a sampling of our own primitive goods using low-tech methods as we explore the chemistry and significance of these seemingly magical transformations. Not open to students who have taken FYSE 1329.
Winter 2011, Winter 2013
ENVS 0112 - Natural Science & Environment
Natural Science and the Environment
We will explore in detail a series of current environmental issues in order to learn how principles of biology, chemistry, geology, and physics, as well as interdisciplinary scientific approaches, help us to identify and understand challenges to environmental sustainability. In lecture, we will examine global environmental issues, including climate change, water and energy resources, biodiversity and ecosystem services, human population growth, and world food production, as well as the application of science in forging effective, sustainable solutions. In the laboratory and field, we will explore local manifestations of global issues via experiential and hands-on approaches. 3 hrs. lect., 3 hrs. lab.
Fall 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013
ENVS 0401 - Environmental Studies Sr Sem ▹
Environmental Studies Senior Seminar
A single environmental topic will be explored through reading, discussion, and individual research. Topics will vary from semester to semester, but will focus on issues with relevance to the local region and with interdisciplinary dimensions, such as temperate forests, lake ecosystems, or public lands policy. The class involves extensive reading, student-led discussions, and a collaborative research project. (Senior standing; ENVS 0112, ENVS 0211, ENVS 0215, and GEOG 0120) 3 hrs. sem./3 hrs. lab
Fall 2012, Spring 2014
ENVS 0500 - Independent Study ▲ ▹
A one- or two-semester research project on a topic that relates to the relationship between humans and the environment. The project, carried out under the supervision of a faculty member with related expertise, must involve a significant amount of independent research and analysis. Students may enroll in ENVS 0500 no more than twice for a given project. (Approval only)
Winter 2010, Fall 2010, Winter 2011, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Winter 2012, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Winter 2013, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2014
ENVS 0700 - ES Senior Honors Work ▲ ▹
Senior Honors Work
The final semester of a multi-semester research project on a topic pertinent to the relationship between humans and the environment. Students may enroll in ENVS 0700 only once. (Previous work would have been conducted as one or two semesters of an ENVS 0500 Independent Study project.) The project, carried out under the supervision of a faculty member, will result in a substantial piece of writing, and will be presented to other ENVS faculty and students in a public forum. (Senior standing; ENVS 0112, ENVS 0211, ENVS 0215, GEOG 0120, and ENVS 0500; Approval only)
Fall 2010, Winter 2011, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Winter 2012, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Winter 2013, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2014
FYSE 1329 - Caveman Chemistry
Caveman Chemistry and Low-Tech Living
Long before the Industrial Revolution, humans routinely transformed mundane natural materials into incredibly useful goods. Stone into bronze tools! Plants into colorful dyes and fat into soap! Using Caveman Chemistry as our guide, we will create a sampling of our own primitive goods using low-tech methods and explore the chemistry behind these seemingly magical transformations. Complementing our chemical glimpse into the past, we will explore current-day motivations for creating from scratch and reducing personal reliance on modern technology by reading current works, including Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, conduct our own low-tech lifestyle experiments, and meet with local artisans.
Publications (undergraduate authors are underlined)
Costanza-Robinson, M. S., Carlson, T. D., Brusseau, M. L. Vapor-phase transport of trichloroethene in an intermediate-scale vadose-zone system: Retention processes and partitioning-tracer-based prediction. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology 2013, 145, 82-89.
Costanza-Robinson, M. S., Zheng, Z., Henry, E. J., Estabrook, B. D., Littlefield, M. H. Implications of surfactant-induced flow for miscible-displacement estimation of air-water interfacial areas in unsaturated porous media. Environmental Science and Technology 2012, 46, 11206-11212, doi:10.1021/es303003v.
Costanza-Robinson, M. S., Estabrook, B. D., Fouhey, D. F. Representative elementary volume estimation for porosity, moisture saturation, and air-water interfacial areas in unsaturated porous media: Data quality implications. Water Resources Research 2011, 47, W07513, doi:10.1029/2010WR009655.
Levine, R. B., Costanza-Robinson, M. S., Spatafora, G. Neochloris oleoabundans grown ondairy wastewater for concomitant nutrient removal and biodiesel feedstock production. Biomass and Bioenergy 2011, 35, 40-49, doi:10.1016/j.biombioe.2010.08.035.
Costanza-Robinson, M. S.; Harrold, K. H.; Lieb-Lappen, R. M. X-ray microtomography determination of air-water interfacial area-water saturation relationships in sandy porous media. Environmental Science and Technology 2008, 42, 2949-2956, doi: 10.1021/es072080d.
Robinson, M. S.; Stoller, F. L.; Costanza-Robinson, M. S.; Jones, J. K. Write Like a Chemist: A Guide and Resource. Oxford University Press: New York, 2008.
Brusseau, M. L.; Peng, S.; Schnaar, G.; Costanza-Robinson, M. S. Relationships among air-water interfacial area, capillary pressure, and water saturation for a sandy porous medium. Water Resources Research 2006, 42, W03501, doi:10.1029/2005WR004058.
Costanza-Robinson, M. S.; Brusseau, M. L. Gas-phase dispersion in porous media. In Gas Transport in Porous Media, Ho, C. K., Webb, S. W., Eds.; Theory and Applications of Transport in Porous Media, Vol. 20, Springer, 2006; pp 121-132.
Stoller, F. L.; Jones, J. K.; Costanza-Robinson, M. S.; Robinson, M. S. Demystifying disciplinary writing: A case study in the writing of chemistry. Language and Learning Across the Disciplines 2005, May 15.
Brusseau, M. L.; Nelson, N. T.; Costanza-Robinson, M. S. Partitioning tracer tests for characterizing immiscible fluid saturations and interfacial areas in the vadose zone. Vadose Zone Journal 2003, 2, 138-147.
Carlson, T. D.; Costanza-Robinson, M. S.; Keller, J.; Brusseau, M. L. Evaluation of gas-phase partitioning tracers for measurement of soil-water content in an intermediate scale system. Soil Science Society of America Journal 2003, 67, 483-486.
Costanza-Robinson, M. S.; Brusseau, M. L. Air-water interfacial areas in unsaturated soils: Evaluation of interfacial domains. Water Resources Research 2002, 38, doi: 10.1029/2001WR000738.
Costanza-Robinson, M. S.; Brusseau, M. L. Gas-phase advection and dispersion in unsaturated porous media. Water Resources Research 2002, 38, 1036. doi:10.1029/2001WR000895.
Costanza, M. S.; Brusseau, M. L. Contaminant vapor adsorption at the gas-water interface of soils. Environmental Science and Technology 2000, 34, 1-11.
Nelson, N. T.; Brusseau, M. L.; Carlson, T. D.; Costanza, M. S.; Young, M. H.; Johnson, G. R.; Wierenga, P. J. The partitioning tracer method for in-situ measurement of water content. Water Resources Research 1999, 35, 3699-3707.
Aldstadt, J. H.; Batson, C. H.; Martin, A. F.; Erickson, M. D.; Costanza, M. S.; Foster, M. B. J.; James, T. R.; Doskey, P. V. Development and preliminary evaluation of a cone penetrometer-based method for in situ determination of volatile organic compounds in groundwater. Field Analytical Chemistry and Technology 1997, 1, 239-247.
Doskey, P. V.; Aldstadt, J. H.; Kuo, J. M; Costanza, M. S. Evaluation of an in situ on-line purging system for the cone penetrometer. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 1996, 46, 1081-1085.
Doskey, P. V.; Costanza, M. S.; Hansen, M. C.; Kickels, W. T. A solid sorbent method for the collection and analysis of volatile halogenated organic compounds in soil gas. Journal of Chromatography A 1996, 738, 73-81.
Ashcraft, C.M.; Costanza-Robinson, M.S.; Gould, R.K.; Isham, J.; McCauley, M.; Munroe, D.L. (co-PIs). Campuses for Environmental Stewardship Grant. New England Regional Campus Compact and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, June 2013-July 2014, $5,000.
Cunningham, M. A.; Johnson, L.; Muthukrishnan, S.; Costanza-Robinson, M. S. Sustainability in Europe: The Limits of Possibility. Mellon Foundation Faculty Career Enhancement Project, May-August 2011, $63,317.
M.S. Costanza-Robinson. RUI: Measurement and Microtomographic Imaging of the Air-Water Interface in Unsaturated Porous Media Supplement. National Science Foundation Geosciences Hydrology Program, November 2009-2010, $9,700.
Trubek, A. (PI, University of Vermont) with Almena-Aliste, M. (UVM); Costanza-Robinson, M. S. (Middlebury); Elder, J. (Midd); Munroe, J. (Midd). "The Taste of Place-Maple Syrup Project". Cornelius King Charitable Trust, January-December 2008, $20,000.
M. S. Costanza-Robinson. "RUI: Measurement and Microtomographic Imaging of the Air-Water Interface in Unsaturated Porous Media." National Science Foundation, September 2007-2010, $200,000.
M. S. Costanza-Robinson. "Microtomographic Imaging of the Air-Water Interfacial Area in Unsaturated Porous Media." American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, Type GB, September 2007-2009, $40,000.