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UWO senior biology major Kong Choua Thao of Milwaukee.

A grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a powerful, custom-built instrument to study molecules, boosting the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s chemistry program in 2017.

Students and researchers alike will benefit from the $355,244 NSF Major Research Instrumentation Program grant for a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer— an instrument used to study the magnetic properties of atoms and provide detailed information on the structure of molecules.

“The NMR spectrometer will be a cornerstone of our chemistry program,” said UWO chemist Brant Kedrowski, one of three principal investigators on the grant along with Sheri Lense and William Wacholtz. “It is a significant upgrade that will provide students and faculty members with a state-of-art piece of critical instrumentation.”

College of Letters and Science Dean John Koker said the new instrument will support UWO’s undergraduate mission in the study of chemistry as well as encourage student engagement in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, in general.

“The instrument is critical to the education of chemistry majors and supports undergraduate research,” Koker said. “I congratulate the chemistry department on this achievement and am grateful for their efforts to give students ‘hands on’ opportunities via this advanced instrumentation.”

Kedrowski_Brant_09NMR spectrometers work much like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) instruments used in medical imaging.

“Both instruments are used to study nuclei—or the hearts of atoms—in a strong magnetic field,” Kedrowksi said. “The difference is that an MRI looks at molecules in tissue, while an NMR is usually used on molecules in a tube.”

Undergraduate chemistry students at UWO are sure to benefit from the new NMR spectrometer.

“One of the strengths of our program is that our chemistry majors get lots of first-hand experience on instruments that are widely used in the chemical industry and at major research universities,” Kedrowski said. “This is great preparation for jobs or graduate studies in chemistry after graduation.”

The new spectrometer will replace an existing NMR instrument that has been used continuously for the past 25 years.

“The new spectrometer is better than our existing instrument in almost every measurable way,” Kedrowski explained. “It is significantly more powerful with a magnetic field that is 50 percent stronger. This gives it greater resolution and sensitivity.”

In addition, the new instrument will be easier for students to operate and more efficient in its use of liquid helium.

“All research-grade NMR spectrometers have superconducting magnets that use liquid helium to keep them very cold inside. The new instrument is almost four times more efficient in its use of helium, which is important because helium is expensive,” Kedrowksi explained.

The instrument will be custom-built in Switzerland and is expected to arrive on campus in about six months.

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