With this award from the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program Professor Karin Crowhurst and colleagues Eric Kelson, Paul Shin, Thomas Minehan and Yann Schrodi from California State University Northridge will acquire a 600 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer. The proposal is aimed at enhancing research training and education at all levels, especially in areas of study such as the investigation of protein dynamics and structure in the neurotrophin and RGS families of signaling proteins; to better understand the mechanisms of signal transmission and regulation; synthesis of C-aryl glycosides to use as nucleoside analogues and for sequence-specific DNA binding; preparation of ruthenium complexes that selectively catalyze inner-sphere hydride transfer to ketones; synthesis of trinuclear group 4 metal complexes to catalyze nitrogen activation/hydrogenation; and design and synthesis of enediyne-based aromatase modulators, a promising class of therapeutics for breast cancer treatment.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is one of the most powerful tools available to chemists for the elucidation of the structure of molecules. It is used to identify unknown substances, to characterize specific arrangements of atoms within molecules, and to study the dynamics of interactions between molecules in solution. Access to state-of-the-art NMR spectrometers is essential to chemists and biochemists who are carrying out frontier research. The results from these NMR studies will have an impact in synthetic organic/inorganic chemistry and biochemistry. This instrument will be an integral part of teaching as well as research.

Project Report

In our grant proposal we requested funds to purchase a 600 MHz NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectrometer. This type of instrument allows researchers to probe individual atoms within molecules. It is a very important tool for chemists, who need to use NMR to check on the progress of their reactions and to analyze the structure of the final product that they have synthesized. Many of the molecules studied or developed in our department are either natural products that have applications in medicine, or new catalysts that can ultimately be used to accelerate difficult reactions, for a wide range of applications (biomedical, chemical, industrial). Some biochemists also use NMR to study larger molecules, such as proteins. Proteins are the workhorses of living things – they are responsible for transmitting signals in the brain, carrying oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body, catalyzing reactions, metabolizing things we eat, providing immunity and generally regulating all of the activities that take place in the body. Biochemists can use NMR to study protein structure and reactions (similar to chemists and their studies of smaller molecules) but they also use NMR to study protein interactions with other molecules, their internal movements and other properties that allow us to better understand how proteins work. We had requested funds for a 600 MHz NMR because it gave us the most flexibility in terms of the number of different types of projects we could pursue. Protein studies require "high field" spectrometers such as a 600 MHz instrument, because they have a lot of atoms and are more difficult to study. A higher field provides better resolution in this situation. Some molecules that are studied by the chemists in our department have some complex characteristics that are difficult to study at lower fields (such as 400 MHz) and as such they benefit from this kind of NMR, as well. Since the NMR was installed two years ago it has been very well-used. Because protein experiments are long and challenging, Dr. Crowhurst (the biochemist) has recorded the majority of the experiments on the NMR. She has been working on projects that are both directly related to her research and also in collaboration with a biochemist at another university. Thus far she has published two research articles that relied exclusively on the 600 MHz NMR to obtain data, with more publications on the way. More recently the 600 MHz NMR spectrometer was used by the chemists in the department, who (otherwise) routinely use a lower field NMR (400 MHz) for their faster and simpler experiments. However, some of them are discovering that the 400 MHz instrument does not provide the information they need for some of their more complex molecules, and as such they have been turning to the 600 MHz instrument to help solve these problems. We have had a couple of chemists in particular who have been quite successful in getting information they need and as a result will be able to publish some of their work in the near future, using data from the 600 MHz NMR as a cornerstone of their reported results. One other critical component to the acquisition of this NMR spectrometer has been student training and student access to modern instrumentation. We are a primarily undergraduate institution, which means that we offer only Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees (no PhDs). Our department prides itself on providing hands-on access to cutting edge instruments for our students, so that they can gain direct experience. Many other institutions require students to give their samples to a technician who then runs the experiments for them. We prefer to allow students to run the experiments themselves, as it provides them with tools that will be useful in future research positions (or PhD programs) and gives them a definite advantage when they apply for chemistry and biochemistry jobs. It also improves the student’s interest and enthusiasm for scientific research, and often enhances their self-confidence. Many of our students are from groups traditionally underrepresented in science, while many others are the first in their family to attend college. The United States is in need of skilled and well-trained people to enter into or continue in STEM fields, and we feel it is also our job to ensure people from these groups are given every opportunity to succeed as professionals. Our policy of providing hands-on student access to instruments such as the 600 MHz NMR spectrometer is helping us to work toward that goal.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Chemistry (CHE)
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Carlos Murillo
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The University Corporation, Northridge
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