University of Scranton Professors Awarded Grant for Research Equipment

Michael Fennie, Ph.D., Arthur Catino, Ph.D., and Nicholas Sizemore, Ph.D., all associate professors of chemistry at The University of Scranton, were awarded a $362,773 National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation grant. The grant will allow the University to purchase a Bruker 400 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, which will be used by undergraduates, graduate students and faculty at Scranton in both chemistry courses and research projects. Professors from local colleges and researchers from area companies will also have access to the state-of-the-art equipment, as will area high school students through an outreach program included as part of the NSF funded proposal.

“NMR spectroscopy is central to modern chemistry research. This instrument uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to determine the structures of molecules, giving us information about their physical properties and reactivity,” said Dr. Fennie, the principal investigator on the grant. “We need to train our students to be competent scientists once they enter graduate school, or start a career in industry or at a lab. Having hands-on research experience using real-world instrumentation at Scranton is what makes a difference in our outcomes.”

NMR spectroscopy shares the same theoretical principles as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used in healthcare – only for molecules, explained Dr. Fennie, which he said also provides a good conceptual foundation for pre-med students. The new NMR equipment, with much-improved detection and throughput capabilities, will increase the productivity of faculty research and enhance the research-training of undergraduate and master’s students as they prepare for STEM careers in academia or industry.

NMR spectroscopy, using older equipment, is already included in more than half a dozen chemistry courses at Scranton, including organic chemistry labs II and III, Instrumental Analysis Lab, Forensic Chemistry Lab, and Advanced Inorganic Lab. The new equipment will enhance the students’ exposure in courses as well as supplement their research projects.

“Our current instrument allows for only a single sample to be loaded at a time for analysis, and each analysis takes a long time to complete, making it impractical to obtain individual NMR data for each student in larger lab courses, such as sophomore-level organic chemistry. The new equipment allows for auto-loading of multiple samples at a time, and the time required for each analysis is much shorter, enabling students in these labs to prepare their own samples, submit them to the NMR queue, and then receive their own data, which is getting closer to what it is like in an actual research setting,” said Dr. Fennie. “Getting that training early on is only going to be more helpful to our students’ development as scientists.”

The technology can also be used for broad research areas ranging from medicinal chemistry, such as studies pertaining to peptide folding and natural products, to experiments for the synthesis of molecules that can be used in OLED displays.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Dr. Michael Fennie and his colleagues at The University of Scranton, and this investment in our students and promise it has to bridge the classroom to the work room,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright. “Giving industry partners access to this tool will serve as an enticement for them to stay in the region and grow our STEM-related job market. I also applaud the collaboration among our higher learning institutions and secondary schools, I look forward to what new research, new ideas and new scientists may come from it.”

The new equipment will be used for collaborative and independent research projects with faculty members at area colleges, such as King’s College, Penn State Scranton and Keystone College, as well as for studies at area businesses, such as Schott Glass, The Azek Company and Process Technologies and Packaging.

Dr. Fennie is especially interested in how the new equipment can be used discover new reactions and better understand how these reactions actually work.

“The NMR will allow us to collect data on how fast a reaction proceeds and the intermediates the reaction might go through. That is important for developing new chemical processes, and optimizing reactions so that we can use less resources in our experiments. In other words, making the chemistry more sustainable,” said Dr. Fennie.

In addition, the University will work with teachers at Scranton High School, West Scranton High School, Honesdale High School, Mid Valley Secondary Center and MMI Preparatory School to bring their students to campus to learn more about the scientific uses of NMR spectroscopy.

The NMR spectrometer will be installed during the University’s winter break and intersession. Faculty, and then students, would be trained in the use of the new equipment in late January and during the spring semester.

Dr. Fennie joined the faculty at Scranton in 2012. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Canisius College and his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Catino joined the faculty at Scranton in 2013. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Franklin and Marshall College and his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Maryland. Dr. Sizemore joined the faculty at Scranton in 2015. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Case Western Reserve University and his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of California, Irvine.