Undergraduate Instrument Center

By Gabriella Reggiano

“Hands-on experience with state-of-the-art instrumentation” are the keywords Department Head Dr. Christian Brückner used to describe the new Undergraduate Instrument Center. This lab, located in T-310 of the Chemistry Building, currently houses an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), an Electron Paramagnetic Resonance spectrometer (EPR), and an X-Ray Powder Diffractometer (PXRD).

With funding from the UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost, Dr. Clyde Cady and Dr. Edward Neth spearheaded the creation of the Undergraduate Instrument Center over the summer of 2016. The Center provides students with the opportunity for hands-on experience with advanced equipment both inside and outside the classroom. Importantly, these are also instruments found in industry and research laboratories.

Dr. Cady will use some of the equipment in the Inorganic Laboratory course in the spring semester. Students will use a solid state extraction method from the 1300s to isolate ultramarine, the blue pigment found in lapis lazuli. Utilizing the EPR, students can determine the purity of the blue pigment. Dr. Cady notes that this instrument is not only more accurate, but it emulates the work done in a research lab. The second half of the experiment asks students to synthesize ultramarine using methods from the 1800s. The PXRD measurement taken before and after the reaction will show students how the heating of the sample results in a structural change. Moreover, Dr. Cady is developing a new experiment with Dr. Harry Frank involving the spectroscopic measurements of free radicals that cause cooking oils or fermented beverages to go bad – or skunky, in beer parlance. They will use the new EPR instrument to measure the free radicals in the fermented sample, thus assessing their quality. Plans to use the EPR instrument in the Physical Chemistry laboratory in the spring are also underway.

Undergraduates will also be able to use the instrumentation for their research that they are doing with a professor. Most importantly, Dr. Cady notes, “This facility is specifically for the benefit of undergraduates. They can take their time using these instruments and really get to know them, whereas most of the time undergraduates have to yield instrument time to graduate students.”

This summer, a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) student from Texas Lutheran University, Cynthia Archambault, worked with a benchtop NMR under the supervision of Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater. This NMR, also purchased with support from CLAS and the Office of the Provost, was temporarily moved from the teaching laboratories to the Undergraduate Instrument Center. There, Cynthia interfaced the NMR with a continuous flow unit, enabling the in-line reaction monitoring of a variety of organic reactions. Dr. Leadbeater says that the project could not have been tackled without this instrument. “When interfacing flow equipment with a traditional NMR spectrometer like those in the basement of the Chemistry Department, complex engineering is required either on the part of the spectrometer or the flow cell used…We are not only able to monitor reactions without the need for a specially engineered flow cell, but also can probe the effect of temperature, time, and reagent concentration on the outcome of the reaction in a really easy way.” Cynthia and Dr. Leadbeater have a paper in press on the work completed utilizing this Undergraduate Instrument Center.

Dr. Brückner provides an apt analogy for the new instrument center: “You used to have a telephone hanging [on the wall] and it was awkward to use, and all of sudden you have your smart phone and you can do things you couldn’t even imagine doing before…Some of these instruments open up completely new avenues of research.”

Any students interested in utilizing the lab should contact the appropriate professor or personnel provided below.

The Chemistry Department would like to thank the UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost for their strong support of undergraduate research and education in our department.


Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM)

We have a Nanosurf NaioAFM spectrometer capable of both static and dynamic mode measurements of features larger than 1 micron. The instrument is small and portable so it can be used for demonstrations. All potential users should contact Ben Anacleto (Chemistry Teaching Laboratory Services) for training.


Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR or ESR)

We have a Bruker EMX_nano spectrometer for EPR measurements. The EMX_nano is capable of measuring room temperature samples using X-band microwaves. The maximum sensitivity of the instrument is 1 pico-molar of radicals. Sensitivity is much less for broad signals, such as transition metals. Samples that are powders or solutions in non-polar solvents work best but samples dissolved in polar solvents can be used if concentrations high enough. All Potential users should contact Dr. Cady (CHEM A-405) for training.


X-Ray Powder Diffraction (PXRD)

Bruker D2 Phaser 2nd generation equipped with 6-sample auto-changer. The instrument is capable of collecting a powder diffraction pattern in 15-20 minutes. High-resolution, publication quality figures can be generated by running samples for longer times. The instrument is mounted on a wheeled cart so that it can be moved to a lab or lecture room for demonstration or use in class. All potential users should contact Dr. Cady (CHEM A-405) for training.

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