New instrument gives organic chemistry students 'real world' experience

May 5, 2015

Students taking organic chemistry at UW-Marathon County can now perform detailed analyses to identify the chemical makeup of unknown compounds thanks to the chemistry department’s recent acquisition of a Thermo Scientific™ picoSpin™ 45 NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) Spectrometer.

Student with NMR instrumentThe shoebox-size instrument will allow students to gain “real world” experience, says Scott Sargent, a UWMC chemistry department instructional specialist and associate lecturer. For example, they will learn how to identify the proximal relationships between hydrogen and other atoms and groups that exist in a compound and be able to use their data to figure out how the atoms in a molecule are connected.  Spectroscopy equipment is routinely used in a variety of scientific and industry sectors, including medical research.

“The addition of the NMR to our existing instrumentation equipment will allow our students to gain valuable first-person experience collecting and analyzing experimental data,” says Sargent. While all four-year campuses in the University of Wisconsin System have larger or similar spectrometers, UWMC is only the third two-year college in the state to have such an instrument.

The Pico-Spin NMR, made by ThermoFisher Scientific, Boulder, Colo., is a small, bench-top instrument that occupies a fraction of the space of a conventional NMR spectrometer and, unlike larger NMR instruments, does not rely on the use of special coolants or solvents. In comparison, a conventional NMR spectrometer would require its own dedicated laboratory room.

Scott SargentSargent says UWMC’s instrument is easy to use and requires only a small amount of sample for analysis. “Liquid samples are simply injected into an internal capillary via front-panel fittings, and a spectrum is generated on an attached computer for the student to analyze,” he explains.

The spectrometer, which arrived in early February, is already being used frequently in the second semester organic chemistry laboratory.  It will also get a lot of use this summer during Organic Chemistry Boot Camp, a UWMC Continuing Education course for college juniors that Sargent will be teaching for the 11th straight year.

It also may have potential use in future UWMC biology courses and by area high schools. “We have to work with it awhile, first,” says Sargent. “We’re still figuring out what it can and cannot do for us. However, because of its portability, there may be opportunities, perhaps as early as next fall, to work with high school chemistry teachers and their students to support their organic chemistry units.”