New Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) System: Impact and Campaign

NMRCampaign Launched to Raise $350,000 for New Nuclear Magnetic Resonance System

For 15 years, the Department of Chemistry has needed a high field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometer (NMR) to replace an aging unit that was purchased in 1988. The NMR is an imperative need for any school of science, let alone a school that bolsters our range of accomplished student-based collaboration with faculty and research. The acquisition of a new NMR is necessary to support the College’s goal of receiving ACS Certification, said Dean Roy Wensley.

Thanks to a lead gift made by Dr. Dennis Meiss ’69 and Janet Ralston, the College has embarked on an annual campaign to raise $350,000 to acquire a new NMR. Meiss and Ralston will match all individual donations to the NMR 1:1 up to $150,000. In anticipation of this acquisition, the College has constructed a room to house the machine, with adequate space for student and faculty research.

Dennis and Janet hope their generosity will inspire others. “We want to provide Saint Mary’s graduates with the right experiences to be a part of the STEM wave, and we hope this gift will mobilize others and influence future philanthropy to the School of Science,” Dennis said.

Your support toward acquiring a new NMR will make an immediate impact for over 150 students each year. To make a gift or to inquire about progress on this initiative, please contact Ron Turner, Special Gifts Officer at (925) 631-4356 or

Impact of a New Nuclear Magnetic Resonance System


Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is arguably the most important analytical tool in Chemistry. The power and flexibility of NMR allows scientists to determine the exact structure of molecules, observe interactions between molecules, and measure molecular diffusion. NMR has many applications, ranging from drug discovery to oil well logging. Experience with a modern NMR system is crucial to prepare our chemistry and biochemistry students for future jobs or entry into graduate or professional school. 

Currently, SMC has a low-field permanent magnet NMR system, which was installed in 1988 and partially upgraded in 2000. This system is woefully inadequate for our needs. We are limited by low resolution, low sensitivity, limited throughput, and a limited number of experiments that the system allows. Upgrading to a modern, high-field superconducting magnet NMR system will erase these limitations and dramatically improve the department’s teaching practices and research capabilities. A modern system will maximize our ability to teach critical thinking skills and to prepare students for future careers.

Specific Impact

Organic Chemistry (100 students/year)
There are currently only three organic chemistry labs that utilize NMR techniques, because the low-field spectra from our current system are too complex to fully interpret. Two of the existing experiments and two additional experiments would be augmented with high-field NMR, spanning two semesters. For example, a new NMR would allow the expansion of the organic chemistry inquiry-based unknown experiment, allowing students to gain independent hands-on experience with cutting-edge instrumentation.

Advanced Biochemistry (20 students/year)
The biochemistry major has steadily increased in popularity and draws many prospective students. We plan to add an NMR-based biochemistry experiment to this course, giving students experience using NMR to investigate structure or binding of biomolecules and allowing an increased discussion of NMR in the lecture.

Analytical Chemistry (15 students/year)
We recently piloted our new analytical chemistry course, and we plan to adapt one of several analytical NMR experiments present in the literature to showcase quantitative NMR.

Physical Chemistry Laboratory (15 students/2yr)
We plan to introduce an NMR experiment in our physical chemistry lab. We are particularly interested in experiments using NMR to measure viscosity or diffusion coefficients.

Research with NMR (10 students/year)
The presence of an NMR would greatly improve the research capabilities of the Chemistry Department, greatly affecting departmental faculty and the students who undertake research that utilizes NMR. Faculty and students are currently conducting research in materials chemistry, surfactant chemistry, organic synthesis and natural products. All of these projects are significantly restricted by the current instrumentation but would be greatly enhanced by a modern NMR, which will raise the bar of expectations regarding publications and presentations by both undergraduates and faculty. All of our research projects are designed for the full inclusion of undergraduate researchers and greatly enhance our student’s education by providing the ultimate active learning experience.

Broader Impact

Coursework and research with NMR helps to develop students’ critical thinking skills. Working with NMR and other analysis techniques mirrors the practice of diagnostics: students have a set of abstract information and must decide a plan of action from this information. The combination of NMR data with other analytical techniques or laboratory observations forces students to integrate complex information to form a single conclusion that accounts for all the evidence, providing concrete practice in complex scientific thinking. The skills gained from coursework or research with NMR will translate to many other areas, such as working with scientific or medical instruments and diagnosing problems in general. Training with NMR will help cultivate the next generation of critical thinkers who will greatly impact society at large.

A high-field NMR is considered the mark of an effective chemistry program. When the SMC Chemistry department applied for program certification by the American Chemical Society (ACS), the ACS directly asked about our NMR and strongly suggested that acquiring a high-field NMR would improve our application. Across our peer institutions, SMC is one of the few without a modern NMR (for example, every other WCC school has a high-field NMR). The SMC Chemistry department owns a suite of essential research instrumentation with the critical “missing-link” exception of a high-field NMR.