Indiana State University Newsroom

New spectrometer at ISU to aid research, teaching at three local institutions

June 13, 2006

Research and teaching at three Wabash Valley higher education institutions will benefit from a newly acquired instrument in Indiana State University's chemistry department.

The instrument, a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, is one of the most powerful tools available for determining the arrangement of individual atoms within molecules and for studying the interaction between molecules in chemical solutions.

Indiana State's chemistry department was able to acquire the spectrometer thanks to a $284,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation Program.

Considered a centerpiece of modern organic chemistry programs, the NMR is one of four spectrometers housed in Indiana State's chemistry department. The new instrument replaces a unit that had been in place for nearly 13 years and had reached the end of its useful life, said Richard Fitch, assistant professor of chemistry and principal investigator for the successful grant application.

The 400 MHz spectrometer has a more powerful magnetic field than the instrument it is replacing and that added power will impact research in medicinal chemistry, biochemistry and synthetic chemistry by providing a wider spectrum of signals, Fitch said.

"It's kind of like looking at puzzle pieces," he explained. "If all the puzzle pieces are overlapping, it's really hard to tell which piece goes where. But if you can separate the pieces and resolve their shape, you can see that this piece is certainly different from that one, and you can eventually determine where all the pieces need to go. The new NMR gives us more power for similarly sorting out the structures in our molecules."

Fitch, whose research focuses on the chemistry and pharmacology of natural products, will use the NMR in studies of complex molecules found in many important drugs. The molecules have precise three-dimensional arrangements of atoms that are critical to the function of these medicines. If special catalysts can be developed to build such molecules, these catalysts can be used to more efficiently prepare important drugs for treating disease, he said.

Chemistry photo Recently named one of 18 ISU "Promising Scholars" in recognition of his research, Fitch was a postdoctoral fellow with the National Institutes of Health before coming to Indiana State in 2003.

The NMR will also be used by other researchers and students at Indiana State, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and St. Mary-of-the-Woods College.

With classroom use in mind, the spectrometer incorporates an automatic sample changer with space for up to 60 chemical samples.

"This can accommodate two organic chemistry classes at once and still have some space left over to handle research samples. That's one of our main reasons for getting that. It allows it to serve that dual use," Fitch said.

A Web-based interface will allow students from Rose-Hulman and St. Mary-of-the-Woods to run tests via the Internet.

"This allows students who are unable to get on campus to actually physically sit at the spectrometer, to operate it, obtain data on their samples, refine it and acquire any other data that they need. The only thing that's required is one person to shuttle several samples over here. We load them in the sample changer and away they go. It really increases the convenience of the instrument," Fitch said.

Collaborating with Fitch in securing the National Science Foundation grant for the NMR were ISU colleagues Richard Kjonaas, professor of chemistry, and Laurence Rosenhein, associate professor of chemistry: Bruce Allison, professor of chemistry at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; and Ehren Bucholtz, assistant professor of science and mathematics at St. Mary-of-the-Woods.


Contact: Richard Fitch, assistant professor of chemistry, Indiana State University, (812) 237-2244 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3743 or

Story Highlights

A newly acquired 400 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer in the ISU chemistry department will be used for research and teaching by faculty and students at ISU, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and St. Mary-of-the-Woods College.

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