New technology expands the hands-on classroom experiences of science students globally
At Zaporozhye State Medical University in the Ukraine, students in the pharmaceutical department are gaining practical experience with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). The small box-like unit sitting on their laboratory countertop might easily be overlooked as just another laboratory device. Instead, the portable picoSpin™-45 NMR Benchtop Spectrometer is an innovation in the NMR market, weighing only 4.76 kg (10.5 pounds), a fraction of the size of traditional NMR spectrometers, and available at a price that is equally diminutive in comparison. These characteristics make the proton NMR instrument a desirable new option for university chemistry departments.
In the Netherlands, Sonny van Seeters, Chemistry Tutor, Avans University, is learning how the miniature spectrometer can enhance his students’ education. van Seeters teaches the basics of NMR using simple molecules like esters, lidocaine, alcohols, and aldehydes in the spectrometer.
“Previously, we only taught NMR theoretically. Now, NMR and spectra are not a black box for students anymore; they are using the instrument and know how spectra are made. They have also learned more about analysis for synthesized products,” he said. “My forensic students conduct structure analysis and combine FTIR, NMR and (GC/LC) mass spectrometry. They simulate the collection of crime scene evidence in our lab, collecting liquids and white powders. Then, using FTIR, MS, and NMR, they identify the components of the liquids and solids.”
Similarly, students of the Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, are gaining hands-on NMR lab experience that they would not have received previously. Due to limited lab space and budgets, the department wasn’t using NMR experiments in their curricula.
Now, Dr. Guido Sauer and PhD candidate Christina Berger use the compact spectrometer to focus on the practical applications of NMR spectroscopy with their students. “We advise our students to follow a chemical reaction—transesterification—and evaluate the kinetics of the reaction. We demonstrate that slight differences in the structure of the compounds lead to noticeable differences in NMR spectra and highlight the importance of NMR spectroscopy in chemical analysis,” said Berger.
To intensify their NMR experience, students are challenged to identify unknown compounds from a list of possibilities. “They also examine the differences between spectroscopic ethanol and a denatured ethanol and apply NMR for quantitative measurements to determine the ratios of mixtures,” said Berger.
Having a compact NMR spectrometer fills in the gap in the students’ physical chemistry lab education. “We also teach the basics of several spectroscopic and microscopic techniques such as photoluminescence, UV-Vis, FTIR, AFM, and REM,” said Berger. “This is another important analytical standard method for us to use in the lab.”
With compact NMR spectroscopy as an educational tool, the possibilities for enhancing students’ chemistry education are increasing as well. van Seeters plans to expand his use of the picoSpin™-45 NMR Benchtop Spectrometer with his new students as another academic year commences.
“We will be using NMR analysis more and more,” he said.