Mass spectrometry (MS) has become one of the premier techniques for the identification of molecules and macromolecules. Recent developments in MS instrumentation and interfaces have ushered in a new era of chemical analysis that demands that scientists have knowledge of and experience with MS. While gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is one of the oldest of the hyphenated techniques, it remains one of the better and most cost-effective means for teaching mass spectrometry to undergraduates. This acquisition is allowing the introduction of MS at all levels of the curriculum and to offer experiences in MS never before possible in our program. The new instrument has the following crucial features: (1) an attached autosampler to provide unattended analysis of samples; (2) access to chemical ionization to provide beginning students with less complex mass spectra; i.e., those that contain intense "molecular ion" peaks for easier molecular weight determination; and (3) an ion trap mass analyzer rather than a quadrupole that makes possible trace analysis experiments that depend upon the selectivity and sensitivity provided by GC-MS-MS.

Guided inquiry and discovery-based experiments involving GC-MS that had good success at other institutions are being adapted or directly implemented into six courses in the curriculum by four of our eight full-time chemistry faculty. Students' knowledge of mass spectrometry is evolving from simple molecular weight information, introduced in general chemistry, to qualitative and quantitative analysis in the organic and analytical chemistry core courses, to analysis of fragmentation patterns and tandem mass spectrometry experienced in two advanced laboratory courses. Our research efforts with undergraduate students are being enhanced as well. This project is supporting major changes in our local general chemistry program and that may serve globally as a model for the integration of both routine and advanced applications of GC-MS in an undergraduate chemistry curriculum.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
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Alexander Grushow
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Oberlin College
United States
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