NMR a rare, versatile tool

Tools and resources are great assets, particularly when funding is tight and you are competing to be among the best in the nation in academic research and technological excellence.

One strength Washington State University offers scientific researchers in that effort is ready, affordable access to a rare type of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. And with WSU’s desire to draw research dollars, this NMR technology provides researchers with an added advantage when competing for federal and private grants.

“There are many NMR spectrometers around the state,” said NMR Center Director Gregory Helms. “We acquire data on samples in both the liquid and solid state, and we have possibly the only spectrometer in the country that can be used for both solids and liquids at 600 MHz.

“The information received from these instruments is crucial for projects,” he said.

NMR spectroscopy utilizes much of the underlying physics of MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and is the precursor to this medical diagnostic tool. The name was changed for use in medicine because it was feared the word “nuclear” would scare some people. However, Helms said there is no need to fear because NMR and MRI use harmless radio waves to acquire their data.

In WSU’s NMR Center, faculty and professional students are able to determine the spectrum or fingerprint, and hence the identity and structure, of any molecule being tested.

Helms explained the components and process of NMR:

“Nuclear” is for the response of the nucleus of an atom as it’s put into a “magnetic” field and probed with radio waves. The response of the nucleus to the correct radio frequency is a “resonance” and is picked up by radio receivers and recorded via computer as a pattern or “spectrum.”

The spectrum helps identify the chemical environment around the nucleus, which leads to an understanding of the structure of the molecule because nuclei respond differently depending on what other atoms are nearby.

The NMR Center, located in Fulmer Hall, is open to any department that wishes to use it. Not only do WSU departments use the NMR instruments, but schools throughout the region and private industry do also. The center has helped determine why small crystals form in Cougar Gold Cheese, as well as the role of aluminum in soils and clays.

WSU projects have used NMR to attract grant money, and Helms encourages all departments to look at ways they can do likewise.

For example, he said, a chemistry professor could write for a grant to synthesize a new insect pheromone. With the aid of NMR, the professor and students would build the molecule, test it and report their work to a scientific journal, which could generate yet more grant money.

“These grants are not just beneficial to the science departments,” said Helms. “The money gets spread throughout the university.”

The first successful attempts at Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy were made in 1946 independently by two scientists in the U.S. WSU’s NMR Center was founded in 1989 and was made operational in mid-1990.

“We’re constantly building up, looking for more clientele to take us to the next level,” said Helms.

For more information about the center and how to apply for grants using its technology, contact Gregory Helms at: greg_helms@wsu.edu or check out the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Center website at http://nmr.chem.wsu.edu.

Next Story

Recent News

Reflecting on spring semester

In a letter to the WSU community, President Kirk Schulz emphasizes the university’s commitment to free speech and the importance of recognizing our shared humanity.

WSU offers expanded equine reproductive care and advanced techniques

The expanded service, which will take advantage of a newly repurposed facility and pasture on Terre View Drive, will be dedicated to clients seeking equine reproductive care and will nearly double onboarding space for mares, foals, and stallions at the hospital.