posted September 1, 2009

Hope Receives NSF Grant for New Spectrometer

 A major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will help enable Hope College to continue to provide its students access to highly sophisticated and modern equipment while expanding its educational reach through cyberspace.

The NSF has awarded Hope $416,767 to purchase a new nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, which is a powerful tool for studying the structures and dynamics of chemical compounds.  The new instrument, which the college plans to install during the spring semester, succeeds a predecessor that was itself sophisticated when it replaced another of its kind a dozen years ago - such is the difference that advances in technology make, according to the grant proposal's lead author.

"There have been significant changes in technology since we purchased our current NMR 12 years ago," said Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, who is an assistant professor of chemistry and is co-directing the grant project with Dr. Moses Lee, dean for the natural sciences and professor of chemistry.  "The primary benefit of this instrument to our program is that it has greater sensitivity, which will enable it to test smaller samples and to work more quickly.  It will also have an auto-sampler, allowing us to set up 30 or more experiments to run automatically overnight."

Multiple research groups at Hope use the college's NMR spectrometer.  It plays a role in projects ranging from monitoring of phosphates in the bed of LakeMacatawa, to analyzing molecular structures that aid the design and synthesis of polymers for electronic and biomedical applications, photochromes and novel medicinal agents.  It will also enable the determination of the structure and conformation of biomolecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids.  The current instrument's benefits across the past 12 years have included providing data for 56 peer-reviewed publications that have included 197 undergraduate co-authors.

In fact, with the instrument also used by more than 150 students in laboratory-based classes as well as the 25-30 students involved in the research activity, Lee estimates that it affects more students in the natural and applied sciences division than any other single instrument of its complexity at Hope.

Johnson and Lee are especially pleased that the new instrument will extend that reach even farther.  The new NMR spectrometer has remote-access capability, meaning that the instrument can be operated and the data can be read live through the Internet.  While that capability will prove useful in classrooms at Hope, Johnson and Lee note that it will be especially useful in enabling the college to reach out to other schools seeking to develop research programs of their own.

"Through some existing partnerships as well as some new ones, we'll be able to make the instrument available to a number of community colleges that don't have such equipment themselves," Lee said.  "We're excited at the opportunity to work with them to enhance science education by adding research-learning experiences to their programs, and also hope that the relationships will help make Hope an attractive option for their students who wish to continue their education after completing their two-year degrees."

The West Michigan institutions include Grand Rapids Community College and Muskegon Community College, both of which have already been partnering with the college through an NSF grant that provides scholarship support and research opportunities to students from the schools who choose to go on to Hope.  Hope will also be partnering with Harold Washington College and William Rainey Harper College in the Chicago, Ill., area, with which the college has already been working through an NSF grant to City Colleges of Chicago to extend science-education opportunities to students at two-year institutions.

While the new instrument does much that its 1997-era ancestor can not, Lee noted that the older NMR isn't going away.  Given the demand in the sciences for NMR spectroscopy, the college will be upgrading it and continuing to use it as well.