New Technology Enhances Molecular Research at Ursinus

Thanks to a National Science Foundation grant, Ursinus students and faculty studying small molecules now have an important tool at their disposal: a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometer.

NMR is a standard chemical spectroscopic technique that allows scientists to determine the structure of molecules that they synthesize or discover. The instrument applies a large magnetic field to the molecules in a sample and irradiates it with radio waves. 

Nuclei in different local environments produce unique signals, leading to a “fingerprint” that can be used to deduce the specific chemical structure of the molecule.  This form of spectroscopy is commonly applied in medical imaging in the form of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technology.  Purchase of the instrument was made possible through a $214,000 grant from the NSF’s competitive Major Research Instrumentation Program.

“It is by far the workhorse of our research,” says Ryan Walvoord, an assistant professor of chemistry. “I can’t think of a more revolutionary tool for analysis in the past 50 years. It brings us in line with other schools doing this type of research.”

The new NMR spectrometer, located in the lower level of Pfahler Hall, will be used by chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology, and health and exercise physiology students in their research, as well as in organic chemistry laboratory courses and upper-level chemistry laboratory courses.

The students will gain crucial hands-on experience using the research-grade instrument, which is used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, allowing them exposure to such technology before they enter graduate school or the workforce.

“What sets us apart from other colleges and universities is that undergraduate students are getting to use this instrument,” says Mark Ellison, a professor of chemistry.  “The chemical and pharmaceutical industries are using this technology, and it will allow our students to be competitive for internships and jobs at those companies.”

Walvoord says that his students will use the technology in every reaction they run.

“We can do experiments that we couldn’t do previously,” Ellison says. “We’re going to be able to do cutting edge science that we couldn’t do before.”

The Major Research Instrumentation Program serves to increase access to shared scientific and engineering instruments for research and research training at higher education institutions nonprofit museums, science centers and scientific or engineering research organizations. –By Ed Moorhouse