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CONTACT: Susie P. Gonzalez
April 22, 2010
Chemistry Equipment to Help Trinity Students, Faculty, and Other Universities
The new NMR spectrometer will replace one purchased in 1996, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Dreyfus Foundation. The new instrument – which is being installed during a three-week period in April and May – will offer state of the art research opportunities for student and faculty scientists.
The 500 MHz spectrometer places Trinity in an elite group. Only five other primarily undergraduate institutions such as Trinity have received federal funding for similar equipment, and the majority of this caliber of spectrometer resides at larger, Ph.D.-granting schools, says Nancy Mills, chemistry professor and the lead writer of the grant proposal. At larger universities, access to these instruments is reserved for graduate students and post-doctoral research associates. At Trinity, first year students will use the spectrometer in their undergraduate research projects. In addition, University budget records show it to be one of the most expensive pieces of scientific equipment purchased for Trinity.
The spectrometer’s price tag of about $498,500 was covered by a grant from the NSF using funds made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
“This grant will have tremendous impact on our students. It continues the chemistry department’s ability to provide opportunities for students to work with state of the art equipment, preparing them for advanced careers in science and medicine. The awarding of this grant demonstrates the high regard that our program is held among our peer s across the nation, reflecting the strong scholarship within the department and the talent of our students,” said Steven Bachrach, chair of Trinity's chemistry department.
The NSF subsequently awarded $200,000 for two additional spectrometers – one known as an inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectrometer and another that uses X-ray fluorescence techniques – and related support items. Chemistry professor Michelle Bushey said both of the second instruments will be used to analyze elements across a broad range of academic disciplines and should be ready for use by the fall semester.
The new NMR spectrometer will be in place for summer student research programs at Trinity. Helping Professor Mills with the successful grant proposal were chemistry colleagues Laura Hunsicker-Wang, Jessica Hollenbeck, and Adam Urbach. They, along with biology professor Frank Healy, and two professors at the University of the Incarnate Word, will have access to the instrument, which features a huge magnet to examine the structure of molecules.
Installation involved the addition of liquid nitrogen and liquid helium to turn the magnet into a superconducting magnet. Professor Mills said the temperature of the magnet had to drop to 4.2 degrees Kelvin – that’s minus 452.07 degrees Fahrenheit – before electricity could flow into the coils to transform it into a magnet. Adding drama to the procedure, she said, was the fact that the magnet “missed its flight” from the United Kingdom, adding a day to the installation schedule. The new NMR spectrometer joins another smaller one purchased in 2002, primarily using NSF funds.
The other spectrometer and X-ray gun will be used to answer environmental questions that will link the departments of chemistry, biology, and geosciences, according to Professor Bushey. The handheld X-ray gun can be used on field trips by students, for example, working with curators at the McNay and San Antonio Art Museum to analyze materials. “For instance, by analyzing the various colors of paint, you can often determine the type of paint used, (such as) lead white or titanium white. That can help date a painting,” Professor Bushey said.