With this award from the Chemistry Research Instrumentation and Facilities: Departmental Multi-User Instrumentation program (CRIF:MU), Professor Robert Hamers and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin Madison will acquire a a 400 MHz NMR spectrometer. The acquisition will advance research in areas of study such as (a) synthesis of bioactive substances, (b) synthesis and conformations of peptidic foldamers, (c) chemical synthesis of carbohydrate derivatives, (d) diazaphospholanes and catalytic asymmetric synthesis, (e) catalytic methods for selective aerobic oxidation of organic molecules, and (f) enantioselective C-H bond oxidation.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is a powerful tool used by chemists to identify unknown substances, to follow the progress of chemical reactions, to elucidate molecular structures, and to study the dynamics of interactions between molecules in solids and in solution. Access to state-of-the-art NMR spectrometers is essential for chemists who are carrying out frontier research and training students in modern research techniques. The results from these NMR studies will have an impact in synthetic organic and inorganic chemistry research at the University of Wisconsin. It will be used to train students in undergraduate laboratory courses. The instrument will be available to users at other undergraduate institutions in the Wisconsin system.

Project Report

In June 2012, the Chemistry Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison opened up use of a new nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, acquired with this grant from the NSF. The instrumentation selected for purchase was a Bruker Avance-400. Through judicious choices in robotics and careful testing and implementation, the spectrometer provides an environment that is remarkable in its ability to support both a very large and broadly based research community at a very high level, as well as provide strong support for our undergraduate teaching laboratories. The spectrometer is also a centerpiece for outreach activities involving surrounding schools and the general community. We regularly observe strongly positive reactions from young people in such interactions, demonstrating success in encouraging them toward science learning and careers. The new Avance-400 NMR spectrometer has become a core resource in support of a very diverse scientific research community. More than 55 research groups, academic and industrial, across the UW-Madison campus and the surrounding community are utilizing the spectrometer. These endeavors involve more than 300 researchers. This NMR resource is particular important in providing state-of-the-art sample throughput with excellent data quality. The spectrometer greatly increases the number of samples a scientist can characterize. Ease-of-use features, gained through improved robotics and controlling software accelerate training, allow the scientist to spend more time making new compounds. The cost of chemical research is therefore lowered. These same technologies enable more complex techniques to be routinely utilized, improving the quality of the research and expanding NMR's applicability into new areas of science. One measure of the productivity of the spectrometer's use is the number of peer-reviewed publications produced per year: more than 45 peer-reviewed publications were completed in calendar year 2013. Investigations of environmentally-safe fuels (e.g., biofuels), lowering costs and improving methodologies for producing chemicals (e.g., a primary goal of the department’s Catalysis Center), and the characterization of a broad range of new materials are areas of research that have particularly benefited from the introduction of the new spectrometer. The spectrometer provides opportunities for young scientists to interact with complex scientific technologies that are becoming hallmarks of modern science. Characterization of chemical compounds has utilized such techniques as NMR for decades, but in the past such methods were the province of the specialist or advanced graduate students. Now young scientists can take part in the process, and gain appreciation and new skills crucial to a competitive workforce. More specifically, the Avance-400 represents a new wave of instrumentation that is highly automated, enabling the ability to survey and characterize many more compounds than previously possible. When combined with significantly improved ease-of-use, direct use by undergraduates has been greatly expanded. Seven laboratory courses use the Avance-400, with large numbers of undergraduates using the spectrometer directly. These technologies have also led to enhanced research learning for undergraduates. More than 40 undergraduates utilize the 400 MHz spectrometer as part of their independent research activities. Approximately 25% of these students are now co-authors on peer-reviewed publications. Such activities enhance their education and preparation for high-end jobs in the workforce. The spectrometer has significantly broadened the use of NMR for demonstrations and hands-on use to students from other universities and colleges, as well as to high school students. It is an important component of the Departmental Plan for Broadening Participation. The spectrometer provides an outstanding method for impressing young people and reorienting their outlook toward science in general. We regularly observe enthusiasm about careers in science from students during tours, and even more so following their own hands-on use of the spectrometer. In numerous interactions with undergraduates on the Avance-400, comments from the students regularly run something like "Wow, that’s cool" to "I can’t believe you’re letting us use this big machine." One female student crystallized our aspirations for how the new spectrometer might enhance outreach and educational missions with the following comments summarizing her class's half-day visit here: "When learning how to use the NMR machine I was a little bit nervous because I didn’t want to screw something up after learning about how much the machines cost. But, when I actually did all the steps to put my sample in the machine it made me feel like a scientist…. The field trip … makes me excited to further my educational career in the field of Chemistry."

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Chemistry (CHE)
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Carlos A. Murillo
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University of Wisconsin Madison
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