A powerful new nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer is acting as a catalyst to boost chemistry research and teaching at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
Funded by a $355,244 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation Program, the custom-built spectrometer is used to study the magnetic properties of atoms and provide detailed information on the structure of molecules.
The spectrometer, which arrived on campus from Switzerland in April, replaced an existing NMR instrument that had been used continuously for the past 25 years.
“The new instrument is mission critical to a modern chemistry program,” said UWO’s Brant Kedrowski, one of three principal investigators on the grant along with Sheri Lense and William Wacholtz. “It will be the cornerstone of our undergraduate teaching as students probe chemical structures and learn how atoms come together in molecules. We’ll also use it every day in our faculty research.”
Kedrowski’s research involves developing methods to synthesize an expanded pallet of amino acids—beyond the 20 that make up all the proteins in the natural world.
“These novel amino acids have potential applications in biochemistry and in the synthesis of therapeutic drugs. This project relies heavily on NMR spectroscopy to study the new molecules,” he said.
The NMR spectrometer also plays a major role in Lense’s research into finding a way to convert carbon dioxide—the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities—into carbon monoxide, which can be used to produce fuels and other substances.
Lense’s work involves creating catalysts that can help facilitate the conversion of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide. “NMR spectroscopy is an indispensable tool used to identify and study the compounds that we synthesize,” she explained.
Likewise, Wacholtz’s research relies on data captured by the new instrument. He looks at structural property relationships in how light interacts with matter, artificial photosynthetic processes and how light energy can be converted into stored energy.
“The goal of the research is to find ways to make better use of our energy,” Wacholtz said. “We are looking at molecules and how photons can be converted to storable energy—it is very important for a more sustainable future with less dependence on fossil fuels.”