Unlocking Polymeric Materials Using NMR

The process of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is helping Auburn University unlock the mysteries of polymeric materials. In this article Assistant Professor Bryan Beckingham explains how.

The Importance of Polymers

Polymeric materials are present everywhere and function as critical components in a wide variety of industries and applications ­– ranging from healthcare (including drug delivery, implant materials and anti-bacterial coatings) to energy systems (such as organic photovoltaics, fuel cells and batteries).

To explore the relationships between polymerization chemistry, polymer architecture, and the resulting material properties, the Beckingham polymer lab carries out fundamental and applied research. Such research is crucial in advancing the thoughtful design of polymeric materials for targeted applications, because knowledge of such fundamental structure property relationships is essential.

The Beckingham Lab routinely synthesizes unique small molecules to use as polymer building blocks and unique polymers for investigation. NMR spectroscopy is a vital tool here, since these small molecule precursors and synthesized polymers require precise molecular and macromolecular characterization.

About Auburn University’s Chemistry Department

Auburn University is primarily a Land, Space and Sea grant public R1 research university, and its Chemical Engineering department has more than 100 graduate students and 22 faculty members, along with 10 postdoctoral research associates and several visiting faculty members.

Enjoying state-of-the-art facilities, the department is well supported by extramural research grants from a number of federal agencies and industrial companies. Thus, Auburn University can provide opportunities for world-class research at every level. Typically, this department invests $6 - 6.5 million per year on research, making it one of the top 25 departments in terms of research expenditures per faculty member. Moreover, both faculty and graduate students routinely publish papers in premier journals and participate in national and international conferences.

Introducing Pulsar Benchtop NMR analysis

Auburn University acquired the Oxford Instruments’ Pulsar to facilitate fast, accurate analysis of these molecules and to perform kinetic tracking of polymerization and polymer modification reactions.

Saving valuable time, the Pulsar allows for speedy and accurate feedback on reaction conversion for many of the lab’s syntheses. In addition, for a number of systems, Pulsar provides complete, end-to-end macromolecular analysis without the need to obtain data from a higher field spectrometer. Before the arrival of the Pulsar, this analysis would have been performed at a user facility located in the AU Chemistry department, and with an hourly user charge.

Easy Analysis at your Fingertips

The main advantages of Pulsar are its location, accuracy, and ease of use. Having the Pulsar in the lab provides the characterization information needed without having to schedule time and travel across campus to a user facility. In contrast, the university’s local NMR facility is situated a 15 minute walk from the laboratory. Moreover, with the huge number of researchers and chemistry laboratories using the facility, it can be a challenge to obtain the required results as soon as possible.

This is why the presence of the Pulsar in the lab facilitates instant routine analysis. For instance, the best method for validating 100% conversion on several small molecule syntheses is NMR. The advantage of not having to wait for access enables quick decisions whether more time or additional reagent is needed for obtaining the desired products. The same is true for characterizing the polymers that are being synthesized. With the Pulsar, it is easy to analyze success rates or if the polymer needs to be remade without delay.

Fast and User-Friendly

Due to the rapid acquisition and good quality spectra obtained, the Pulsar has become a preferred and frequently-used instrument. What’s more, the ease of data acquisition has enabled the training of undergraduates in the use of Pulsar independently without the supervision of graduate students, that sometimes accompany the paid-for time at the user facility. As a result, many of the systems are publication-worthy and have been presented at regional and national conferences. Recently, the department published a manuscript in RSC Analyst which validated the accuracy of the low-field spectrometer for several common polymer blends and block copolymers. This demonstrates the value provided by Pulsar.

Pulsar has been a valuable addition to the university lab of Auburn University, equipping the students and researchers with hands-on, practical experience of NMR.

Pulsar is a high resolution, 60 MHz benchtop NMR spectrometer, which provides high quality 1-D and 2-D NMR spectra of 1H, 19F, 13C and 31P. It uses a permanent magnet – thus implying that it requires neither liquid helium nor liquid nitrogen. Advanced, automatic shimming produces a highly homogeneous magnetic field, which makes Pulsar suitable for use in almost any academic or industrial chemistry laboratory.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Oxford Instruments Magnetic Resonance.

For more information on this source, please visit Oxford Instruments Magnetic Resonance.

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