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Chemistry Faculty Score with ‘Very Rare’ Equipment

Photo caption. Photo by Jennifer Raudebaugh

Gonzaga chemistry faculty members (from left) Tommaso Vannelli, Matthew Cremeens, and Jeffrey Watson admire their new instrument. The circular dichroism (CD) spectrometer generates light with a "handedness" like that of a left-handed and right-handed screw. It can detect when a sample has more or less of this handedness. Photo by Jennifer Raudebaugh.

Gonzaga University News Service

Life for Gonzaga University chemistry faculty Matthew Cremeens, Tommaso Vannelli and Jeffrey Watson got better quickly last week when their collective grant-writing labors paid off with a grant from the National Science Foundation allowing them to buy a research instrument (and attachments) valued at more than $181,000.

More commonly known as a circular dichroism (CD) spectrometer, the small rectangular unit is an incredibly valuable tool and one highly unusual for a university like Gonzaga to receive, said Cremeens, lead investigator.

“What is special is very few primarily undergraduate institutions like Gonzaga have this kind of instrument,” Cremeens said. “It’s very rare and we are very lucky to receive it.”

As always, Gonzaga’s good fortune in the sciences translates into huge benefits for science students and research.

“It means undergraduates will continue to be exposed to state-of-the-art equipment in their training here. We aim to incorporate the instrument into Biochemistry, Bioanalytical, and Organic labs this semester,” Cremeens said.

The grant is timely, too, as Gonzaga’s chemistry department becomes the department of chemistry and biochemistry this year, and the tool has tremendous utility for biochemistry. Life’s molecular building blocks often exhibit “handedness,” and this instrument allows researchers to study the handedness of molecules, especially biomolecules. It facilitates in-depth inquiry necessary in Gonzaga’s new Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry.

With many research projects proposed, this tool will help provide students with invaluable research experience to be more competitive. Through Gonzaga’s Indian Education Outreach Program, Native American students and high school teachers also will be able to use it.

  1. Fred Dunham
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 9:40 am

    I suppose I should share the joy these members of the chemistry department seem to have over there new device, but I am reminded of the time that I went to them with a proposal to fund a student or otherwise pay for the use of the mass spectrometer they already had in return for some analysis for a local chemical company that I ran at the time. I expected they would jump at the chance to get some real world experience, as well as some unexpected funding. The offer was refused and the comment was “well, if we did that then we’d have to train a student to use it (the equipment) and then he’d graduate and we’d have to train another one.” I was struck speechless, as I had always believed that training students and having them leave prepared was exactly their mission. As far as I know, the equipment remains unused today.