A new instrument at Centralia College will allow science students to take a closer look at molecules — something that will prepare them for a variety of career fields.
“NMR is one of the primary methods used for chemical identification,” said Associate Chemistry Professor Karen Goodwin. “It is taught no matter where you are. Whether you have the instrument or not, the theory of the instrument is taught. We now can actually apply practical application to the theory. I would, before getting this instrument, talk for an entire chapter about the theory behind NMR.”
The NMR — which stands for Nuclear Magnetic Resource Spectrometer — is a tool that will allow students to look at molecules. Soon, both first- and second-year science students will have access to it.
“Let’s say there is a plant and somebody extracted the components of the plant,” Goodwin said. “They tested it and it killed a cancer cell. What is that? What is the compound that did that?”
At that point, Goodwin said, chemists need to answer a few questions — what is the structure of the compound? Can chemists create that compound, or potentially alter it in any way?
“Those are all questions that can be answered using instrumentation such as this,” Goodwin said. “The NMR is really the molecule equivalent of an MRI. So you go to have an MRI at the hospital, they stick you in a large magnet and scan your body. I take a chemical compound, I put it in there, it goes into the large magnet and it scans the molecule.”
Essentially, the instrument looks at the molecule and gives people more information about what that molecule looks like.
“Really what it’s looking at is it’s probing the structure (and) what’s in the molecule,” Goodwin said. “... Really what you’re looking at is ‘Hey I found this molecule that I think has a medical benefit, but I want to know what it is.’”
Second-year chemistry students have already used the instrument. The students are gearing up to do projects in which many will do a chemical reaction, where they don’t know what their product is. Their challenge will be to determine what their product was.
There are two main chemistry courses for science majors at Centralia College — General Chemistry (first-year chemistry) and Organic Chemistry (second-year chemistry). Goodwin is currently working to get first year students able to use the instrument.
Previously, the department had a desktop NMR. However, Goodwin kept finding that more and more of the experiments she wanted her class to do wouldn’t work with the old machine the department used.
“The problem with the desktop NMRs, which are fairly ‘cheap’ — they might run you $20,000 — is that they don’t have the kind of resolution that this one does. You can’t just put any molecule in them, because it’s got an injection portal and if the stuff that you’re using is like syrup-y, it’s going to get stuck in the injection port — so you can’t use those compounds. That was the main problem I had that caused me to start to want this.”
Centralia College paid just under $60,000 for the machine. The Lovington award, an internal grant for faculty and staff, funded $40,000, while Instruction Office funds financed the remaining balance.