Southeastern chemistry program to gain new spectrometer through National Science Foundation grant

Tuesday, September 24, 2013
by: Rene Abadie

HAMMOND – The Southeastern Louisiana University chemistry program will add a new nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer to its equipment arsenal, thanks to a $274,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The unit is arguably the most powerful and important piece of equipment used to determine the structure of molecules, explained Debra Dolliver, associate professor of chemistry. She and Jean Fotie, assistant professor of chemistry, were the primary applicants for the device, in collaboration with chemists Bill Parkinson, Zhengrong Li and Thomas Sommerfeld and physicist David Norwood.

"Essentially, this is an MRI for molecules," said Dolliver. "A molecule is placed in a large magnetic field, allowing the scientist to interpret signals from the molecule when it is subjected to relatively low energy electromagnetic waves. From these signals, we can detect a surprising amount of information about the types of bonds and the order of connections between atoms."

The new NMR will replace one that had been donated to the university several years ago by an area industrial plant.

"This new unit has a higher magnetic field strength and therefore will give us greater detail about compounds," she added.

Dolliver said several Southeastern chemists are involved in making new compounds as part of their research. The new NMR will allow the scientists to better clarify these compounds and to see the finer structure in the molecules. In addition, the instrument will produce images of a higher resolution that are of publication quality.

She said that almost all students working in research within the chemistry program will be trained to independently use the instrument and to fully interpret the data it produces.

"This makes our students ready for the workforce or graduate studies when they leave Southeastern," Dolliver said. "We pride ourselves in the fact that our students get extensive hands-on experience using the most important instrumentation, and this is rare for an undergraduate."

She said the NMR will also be used by Southeastern's SEAL program, which links selected students with area businesses and industry to solve a specific industrial problem or to develop new compounds useful to industry. SEAL stands for Student Entrepreneurs as Active Leaders and was created to encourage economic development activity by connecting students with business and industry.

"The SEAL students have used NMR in the past for industrial clients," explained Dolliver, one of the faculty advisers for the program. "They were able to help both Gaylord Chemical in Slidell and the chemical firm Bercen in Denham Springs to identify impurities in their production processes with this technique. This new NMR will make the work of the SEAL students even more valuable and helpful."

The unit is expected to be installed in the spring 2014 semester.


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