Miniature NMR Spectrometer To Enhance Chemistry Program

North Park University will soon add an important piece of equipment to its chemistry program that will improve students' classroom experience and enhance chemistry research. The University's acquisition of a miniature Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer – the only small-form NMR commercially available – is a significant step for the chemistry students and professors. North Park students will be among the first college students in the nation to use this revolutionary instrument.

Similar to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) used in medicine, an NMR spectrometer can help a user identify molecules in a solution by providing a "spectrum" or picture in graph form. "This is a central instrument to the field of chemistry," said Dr. Jonathan Rienstra-Kiracofe, professor of chemistry and department chair. "It provides information on the structure of molecules in a way that many instruments cannot do. Because of that, it's very important that chemistry students learn and have some experience with an NMR."

Funded by a grant from the Max Goldenberg Foundation, Chicago, and other University funds, the shoebox-sized miniature NMR instrument cost nearly $19,000 and is "perfect" for the University's chemistry program, Rienstra-Kiracofe said. The price tag is far less than much larger NMR instruments that can cost $200,000 and up, he said. The University ordered the instrument, which is new to the marketplace, from picoSpin, LLC, Boulder, Colo. That company won a 2011 Edison Award, which honors innovation, for its miniature spectrometer.

Rienstra-Kiracofe's colleagues agree that the miniature NMR spectrometer will provide a boost to the University's chemistry program. For example, the use of NMR technology is fundamental to organic chemistry. "A thorough organic chemistry course depends heavily on the use of NMR for the determination of molecular structure and the study of reaction mechanisms," said Dr. Isabel Larraza, assistant professor of chemistry. "I have no doubt that this instrument will foster in our students a broader and more in-depth learning experience while exposing them to an important technology." At present, faculty teach the concepts by providing NMR spectrum examples to students. With the new instrument, students will be able to create their own spectra, and analyze their products as soon as they synthesize them in the lab, Larraza said.

NMR is a "powerful analytical technique" used in all disciplines in chemistry, said Dr. Anne Vazquez, assistant professor who chemistry. "I am looking forward to using it in our analytical and physical chemistry labs. Giving our students hands-on experience with this important instrument as undergraduates will greatly prepare them for graduate studies and careers," she said.

More than 100 chemistry students will benefit from direct use in classes of the University's miniature NMR, unlike many schools that restrict students' access to larger and more expensive NMRs, Rienstra-Kiracofe said. The mini NMR spectrometer is expected to arrive and be put into use in February 2012. Staff with picoSpin will conduct training sessions here.

The Max Goldenberg Foundation has provided grant funds to the North Park University chemistry program before. It has also provided grant funds to the University's nursing program.


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