From molecules, mountains of knowledge at Keene State
KEENE — A month ago, Keene State College students started using the latest technology in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy — a research technique used to test the structure of molecules.
The nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, commonly referred to as an NMR, is the gold standard of testing the structure of molecules, said Paul Baures, Keene State chemistry professor, and David F. Putnam, chairman.
At the Putnam Science Center at Keene State College Thursday, Kelly O’Rouke, a Keene State junior majoring in chemistry, said she uses the NMR regularly.
She and seven other students are collecting data on chemical compounds hoping to find the next advancement in cancer fighting drugs by tweaking the makeup of a successful anti-tumor, anti-cancer drug to see if any changes to its molecular structure could make the drug work better.
In the lab next door she creates the compounds then uses the NMR to verify what she has created. Next year she plans to conduct testing of all of the compounds made on cancer cells in the science center’s biology lab.
“Chemists can’t see molecules. We might personify them. Most of us do, they are our babies, but we can’t see them,” Baures said. “Whatever it is that we are making we have to provide evidence that this is what we are making.”
Baures is now using the NMR to study compounds that mimic the anti-freezing proteins in fish, insects and plants with the goal of creating a compound that could protect power lines from being brought down by freezing rain.
The new NMR was paid for by a $263,700 grant from the National Science Foundation and replaces an NMR that was about 19 years old.
“Remember cell phones 20 years ago,” said Richard Blatchly, chairman of the Keene State Chemistry Department. “Think about that kind of change in technology. It’s just staggering how different things are.”
Blatchly is using the machine to study olive oil and its medicinal compounds.The NMRs have a 20-year life span, but in an industrial setting are replaced every five years to keep up with changing technology. They are changed less frequently in an academic setting, Blatchly said.Because of the improved technology, the NMR takes less time to use and students have more access to it.
During a two- or three-hour lab students can make their own samples in the lab and add them to the machine so that it can run over night with next-day results, Baures said.
“Instead of just book work and theory, they will be able to practice making the samples and gathering their own data to analyze for research training,” Baures said.Using the machine helps students step into chemistry out of Keene State, Blatchly said.“We have to get them ready for the professional world,” Blatchly said.
Baures said using the machine also helps students who end up in the health care industry. They learn how to conduct a test and read complex data, he said.
“Conceptually that instrument in there is just like an MRI in a hospital,” Baures said. “For students who are going to become health-care professionals they need to appreciate how you can interrupt complex data.”
The Keene State Chemistry Department also plans to allow regional use of the machine by St. Anselm College and the Keene-based industrial research headquarters for the MARKEM Corporation.Several Keene State graduate work at MARKEM and could use the NMR to test industrials compounds they research, Blatchly said. “They make new compounds or they make new mixtures and they wonder what’s in there. This instrument is a great way to find out.”