NMR: The All-seeing Technique

University of Massachusetts Lowell’s NMR Spectroscopy Facility Manager, Wendy Gavin, discusses the importance of an NMR vendor that supports the constant challenge to be innovative.

With over 13 years spent working in industry, 11 in a large pharmaceutical company, it is safe to say that Wendy Gavin knows the secret to successful nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Wendy has worked at the university for over six years and, as well as being the NMR Core Research Facility Manager, she also manages the University’s Analytical Chemistry lab.
Her experience working in industry has provided unique insights into a customer’s requirements and enables her to ensure that the NMR facility at the University of Massachusetts Lowell is providing high quality data. Below is a summary of an interview with Mrs. Wendy Gavin.

Inside the NMR Lab

Staffed by highly trained technicians, the primary purpose of the research lab is providing expert advice and training in solution state NMR spectroscopy to the University’s researchers, but they are also able to extend that offering to industry clients. The UMass Lowell NMR facility has a diverse set of users undertaking varied research, all with different needs, so they can offer three levels of service: self-use, running samples as a CRO-like service, and training users to be self-sufficient. Users' research covers a broad range of disciplines, from chemical engineering and chemistry, to physics and biology.
The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Facility is part of the Core Research Facilities at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. It offers a solution state JEOL 400 MHz NMR:
  • JEOL ECZ 400 MHz NMR with Royal Probe
  • Capable of observing 1H, 13C, 11B, 19F, 29Si, and 31P nuclei in solution
  • Great for 2D Experiments including: COSY, HSQC, HMBC, NOESY, ROESY, & TOCSY
  • Variable Temperature capabilities from -100°C to 150°C
  • 24 Carousel Autosampler
  • Automatic Tuning and Matching
  • Delta 5.3 software

Arsenal of Tools for the Laboratory

Observing the preparations of graduate student Tanmoy Maji
As part of the core research facilities at the University, the NMR facility has a solution state JEOL 400 MHz NMR and a JEOL ROYAL Probe. Mrs. Gavin says here, "NMR is one of the most reliable techniques available, it doesn’t give false data and provides definitive proof of synthesis for a paper or patent. Our training covers 1H and 13C NMR techniques, but we are also able to provide guidance for advanced NMR experiments including kinetic studies, 2D techniques, and variable temperature studies."
NMR software can be very expensive and, as a non-profit University, Wendy Gavin is very conscious of managing expenses. Mrs. Gavin then says, "the NMR facility uses JEOL’s advanced processing software, Delta 5.3, which is free for everyone. Most NMR software is command driven, making tasks such as finding J-coupling tables incredibly complicated, but with Delta it’s easy to extract answers because it’s fully automated."

Intuition and automation

Also according to Mrs. Gavin, "One of the major advantages of JEOL’s instruments is that they are practically fool-proof – the majority of users can use the NMR after minimal training with no errors. The JEOL 400 has cut our training time in half because it’s so intuitive. Most of experience is with manual, demand-driven NMR systems, so the fact that JEOL’s instrument is so automated makes my work a lot easier."
Graduate student Yunchuan Qi getting ready for the next experiment
As an example, Mrs. Gavin describes how one of the graduate students had been running samples on a different NMR instrument but he was having difficulty finding the product that he had synthesized. When the sample was run on the JEOL 400, he was finally able to identify that he did have product in his sample but only in small quantities. He was very pleased to know that his synthesis was working and he could move forward with his research. It was the increased sensitivity and resolution on the JEOL 400 instrument that enabled this greater level of analysis and provided the answers.
Mrs. Gavin says in greater detail, "other users have commented on how impressed they are by the ease of use – one user with experience using NMR instruments from other vendors had to memorize different commands and their input order. This introduced a larger window for error while adding additional work to his research. What I love about JEOL’s NMR is that, although there is a relatively small number of functions that can be changed, if there is anything you would like to add or a function you’d like to perform, you can contact them and they will work with you."

Try before you buy

As a Core Facility Manager, one of Mrs. Gavin's goals is to assist users and provide them with the answers they need for their research.
The Material Characterization Laboratory at Umass Lowell owns a JEOL scanning electron microscope (SEM), so Mrs. Gavin knew the level of service with the new NMR would be outstanding. Mrs. Gavin stated, "we are very privileged to have JEOL’s Peabody, MA site so close to Umass Lowell, where were able to test their systems to check capabilities before investing in an instrument. For example, we have sometimes struggled with solvent suppression on our other NMR instruments; if a user has a large peak hiding or in the way of sample peaks, it’s important to knock it down and see what’s behind it." When evaluating the JEOL 400 MHz NMR, Mrs. Gavin took some of her users’ samples with her to the JEOL Technology Center in Peabody and one student found peaks he didn’t know were there. He was excited to get this important data.
Mrs. Gavin has described how customer support is always a big consideration when choosing a vendor because it’s not just her, the facility manager, they are serving, it’s also the customers and their challenges that they try to help users solve. According to Mrs. Gavin, "as well as inviting me to visit them, JEOL staff have also come to the University to troubleshoot directly with students and users, answering any queries and demonstrating solutions. JEOL also came on campus to provide software training to students and external users, as well as troubleshooting some user issues, such as external referencing. Establishing robust processing protocols is vital to help researchers looking to publish papers and patents. This has been by far the best customer service I’ve ever experienced with any vendor, and it makes a big difference. JEOL has helped at every stage from instrument evaluation, to purchase, to installation and beyond."
Front row left to right: Priyanka Biswas, Tanmoy Maji, Zhen Yang
Back row left to right: Sajani H. Liyanage, Jingzhe Lao, Wendy Gavin, Yunchuan Qi

In summary

Cutting-edge research is being done every day at the University and that is why the UMass Lowell NMR facility has put such careful consideration into choosing their instruments. User needs are at the center of that, and very important to Mrs. Gavin. "To have an open invitation to go to JEOL’s lab and get hands-on experience with their systems is absolutely invaluable. It’s a well-known fact that NMR instruments are expensive to run, but when you are processing samples and delivering results in less than half the time it usually takes, you’re realizing crucial savings in time and money. We have also significantly reduced user error, which means there is less demand on my time for troubleshooting."
Here at UMass Lowell, the NMR facility is constantly being challenged to help their users be more innovative and, with JEOL’s 400 NMR, they can exceed expectations.

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