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Alumnus Gilbert Vial Brings Cutting-edge Chemistry Equipment to York College

Gilbert Vial

The 2016 graduate is helping his alma mater’s Chemistry Department stride ahead in the field of molecular spectroscopy.

Gilbert Vial ’16, the Molecular Spectroscopy product manager at Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, Inc., played a pivotal role in installing groundbreaking equipment at his alma mater, York College of Pennsylvania.

Inspired by his passion for forensic science, which was nurtured through his fascination with crime-scene investigation TV shows, Vial enrolled at York College to pursue a bachelor of science degree in Forensic Chemistry. He quickly discovered an unexpected passion for instrumentation and analytical chemistry.

What set York College apart for Vial was the hands-on experience that students received with cutting-edge equipment, an opportunity that fueled his academic and professional trajectory.

“I was really impressed by the fact that we as undergrad students got hands-on time with the equipment,” he says. “Generally, that’s not the case. Usually, the upper-level students will use the equipment for the undergraduate students.”

From internship to early adoption

Vial’s commitment to instrumental analysis led him to an internship at Shimadzu, a maker of scientific instruments, during two consecutive summers. After graduation, he began working full-time for Shimadzu while pursuing a master’s degree in forensic science at Stevenson University.

Throughout his time at York College, Vial found the greatest value in hands-on learning with instrumentation, a crucial element in preparing for a career in the industry. His journey came full circle when, as product manager at Shimadzu, he had the opportunity to install the first-of-its-kind Shimadzu Infrared/Raman microscope, known as the AIRsight, at York College. The addition of the microscope in September 2023 marked a significant milestone for Vial and his alma mater.

Leveraging his connection with Dr. Gregory Foy, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Vial arranged a partnership between Shimadzu and York College and designed an Early Adopter Program. This collaboration allows students using the AIRsight to publish their projects through the Shimadzu channel, showcasing the practical applications and capabilities of the AIRsight while giving students the opportunity to get their work in front of professionals in the field.

New areas of research

Thanks to the support of the Huber Foundation, York College became the first and only academic institution in the United States to possess this cutting-edge technology. The AIRsight microscope, which utilizes infrared and Raman spectroscopy, offers the ability to analyze samples in water and glass containers, a capability not present in traditional infrared spectroscopy. With the AIRsight installed, Vial sees the opportunity for students to take part in senior-level research projects on microplastics in the environment or electric vehicle battery development, as well as other subjects. These are topics that require AIRsight’s unique capabilities. 

Dr. Foy acknowledges the significance of this acquisition, highlighting the opportunity for students to work with Shimadzu scientists to develop new methods of analysis. The microscope is being integrated into all four majors in the Chemistry Department.

Vial believes his hands-on learning experience at York College has been a difference-maker in his career success. He envisions the potential for more opportunities arising from similar partnerships and early adopter programs. His advice to current and prospective students echoes his experience.

“Take advantage of all available resources and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty,” he says.