A major instrumentation grant from the National Science Foundation is enabling Hope College to acquire a new mass spectrometer for use in multiple disciplines in both collaborative faculty-student research and classroom instruction.

The $320,498 award is supporting the purchase of a “liquid chromatograph, quadrupole, time-of-flight, tandem mass spectrometer” (LC/Q-TOF MS). It will arrive on campus this fall and will be housed in the college’s A. Paul Schaap Science Center.

The instrument will be used by researchers in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, engineering, the geological and environmental sciences, neuroscience and nursing, as well as in academic programs and courses including Biochemistry, Environmental Science, Analytical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Neurochemistry and Disease.  Although it will be in service longer, across the next three years it will be used in original research by an estimated 130 students led by faculty mentors, and by another 375 students through coursework.

The grant’s principal investigator is Dr. Kristin Dittenhafer-Reed, assistant professor of chemistry.  Another four professors are co-principal investigators:  Dr. Kenneth Brown, professor of chemistry; Dr. Jason Gillmore, professor of chemistry; Dr. Jonathan Peterson, the Lavern '39 and Betty DePree '41 Van Kley Professor of Geology and Environmental Science; and Dr. Matthew Smith, associate professor of engineering.  All will be using the instrument in their research programs, as will more than a dozen of their colleagues.

“The mass spectrometry system will allow for the identification of molecules within complex biological and environmental samples and high-resolution analysis of synthesized molecules,” Dittenhafer-Reed said.  “In a typical experiment, the components flow into a mass spectrometer where they are ionized into the parent ion and its fragment ions and their masses are measured, providing a fingerprint that can be used to identify the molecule.”

“This system will initially enable 16 research groups at Hope College to perform critical molecular analyses in three main areas of chemistry:  chemistry of life processes; chemical structures, synthesis and mechanisms; and environmental chemistry,” she said.  “This research will lead to peer-reviewed publications, enhanced competitiveness for external funding and the training of the next generation of leaders in the scientific community.”

Chemistry of life processes projects include the analysis of proteins, protein-protein interactions, protein post-translational modifications, metabolites and lipids in biological samples. Chemical structures, synthesis and mechanisms projects include the study of photo- and electro- active heteroaromatic dyes, polymeric and liquid crystalline materials for shape-programmable structures and devices, mechanistic investigation of transition metal catalyzed carbon-carbon bond activation and identification of small molecule anti-fungals in plant extracts. Environmental chemistry projects include the analysis of the interaction between oxide nanoparticles and pharmaceuticals in the environment, characterization of soil organic matter towards a better understanding of climate change, measurement of nutrients and contaminants in water, and nanoparticle development for the removal of aqueous organic pollutants.

The new instrument replaces an LC-MS that the college had acquired used in 2003.  Its long name — “liquid chromatograph, quadrupole, time-of-flight, tandem mass spectrometer” — reflects its capability.  An MS with a liquid chromatograph provides additional structural identification power by separating mixtures of compounds before they reach the mass spectrometer. The mass spectrometer couples two mass analyzers, the quadrupole and time-of-flight analyzers, to increase accuracy and the ability to analyze a range of samples.

 The mass analyzer in a quadrupole mass spectrometer consists of four parallel cylindrical rods, and a tandem instrument has two such analyzers.  In the time-of-flight method of mass spectroscopy, the mass-to-charge ratio of an ion is determined by the way in which ions are accelerated by an electric field of known strength.