Monday, October 16, 2017

NSF grant supports UTSA’s acquisition of powerful research instrument

NSF grant supports UTSA’s acquisition of powerful research instrument

(Sept. 19, 2016) -- Michael Doyle, The Rita and John Feik Distinguished University Chair in Medicinal Chemistry and professor of chemistry at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has received a $527,275 grant from the National Science Foundation to support the acquisition of a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer. The device, which is several times more powerful than an MRI machine, will support top-tier research across multiple disciplines.

Since its emergence in the 1940s, NMR spectroscopy has had a tremendous impact on the chemistry field.

“This instrument is critical for researchers in all areas of chemistry as well as pharmacology and even some elements of biology,” Doyle said.

Whereas an electron microscope, like UTSA’s own Helenita, can examine atoms at surface level and MRI machines can image the physiological processes of the body, an NMR spectrometer can go several steps further. It’s able to examine the inner workings of molecules: the placements of atoms and the connections between them.

The machine relies upon a large superconducting magnet cooled by liquid helium to exploit the magnetic properties of an atom’s nucleus. The interaction between the massive magnet and the tiny nucleus allows the spectrometer to map where the atoms are in relation to each other.

“Medical professionals use instrumentation like this for the visualization of organs,” Doyle said. “We’re going to use it for the visualization of the molecules that make up those organs.”

One of his main motivations for acquiring the spectrometer, he said, was to provide more of the hands-on undergraduate research experience UTSA is known to offer.

“This is not just a research instrument,” Doyle said. “This is something that all students should have some experience interacting with.”

The spectrometer is fully automated and will run 24 hours a day, allowing for high-throughput screening of a number of different compounds, making faster, more thorough research in many different fields available to UTSA faculty and students. Doyle expects the device to arrive in early 2017 and plans to have it up and running within days.

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