By Naidelly Coelho
The Mass Life Science Center (MLSC) awarded a $503,000 grant to FSU to buy new science instruments, according to an Oct. 18 press release from Communications Director Dan Magazu.
MLSC supports the growth and development of the life sciences and encourages innovation through investments in good science and good business, according to the MLSC website.
Chemistry Professor Sarah Pilkenton said life sciences needed two new instruments: a liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) and a nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR).
Chemistry Professor Shelli Waetzig said an LC-MS is an instrument that does liquid chromatography which separates complex mixtures, determines molecular weight, and helps piece together the structure of molecules. This instrument is used in pharmaceutical and chemical industries.
Pilkenton said, “We really wanted to have two pieces of equipment that tell us a lot about the structure of molecules and also allow us to follow chemical reactions and explore natural samples, soil extracts, water samples, all kinds of stuff, and let us know what is in those materials.”
Waetzig said an NMR analyzes reaction products and determines if the reactions have done what they are supposed to do.
She said this instrument is very important for research and for classes because in Organic Chemistry, there is a module that deals with NMR and “the students get to learn and it's sort of more hands-on for them.”
Pilkenton said FSU did have an NMR before. However, due to the global helium crisis, the University was no longer able to “procure liquid helium - compressed gas to keep our high field NMR - nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer going.”
NMR does not require cryogens. Cryogens are substances used to produce very low temperatures. Also, there are no maintenance costs associated with it, according to the press release.
Pilkenton said FSU had an LC about 17 years ago which no longer functions.
“These are both instruments that students will use a lot if they were to go into the industry of biotech,” she said.
Waetzig said students in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, or food science will benefit from the instruments.
Boston is the number one biotech center in the country, Worcester is number 15, and FSU is in between them. The FSU community will benefit considerably from having those instruments, Pilkenton said.
According to the press release, Dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Margaret Carroll said, “The life science sector in Massachusetts is booming, and at FSU, we are fully committed to providing the highly educated workforce needed to fill these great job opportunities.
Graduate students enrolled in the University’s professional science master’s program in biotechnology will also benefit from the news instruments, according to the press release.
Pilkenton said these instruments will also help faculty who are undertaking research.
Waetzig said the University did not have any funding available to buy more instruments, and because it had received MLSC grants in 2014-15, the College of STEM turned to them for assistance.
Waetzig said they applied for the grant in March 2023.
She said they are still in the process of buying the instruments and they are “pushing” to get them purchased before the end of the fiscal year.
She said she and Pilkenton have taken multiple trips to different companies to price out the instruments and find the best option.
“We've been trying to make the most of the purchases that we have, but we do need to get to purchasing them pretty quickly because some of these can take as much as six months to procure,” she added.
Waetzig said the application for the grant was very extensive and included questions about who would benefit from those instruments and what students would get out of having them.
The grant application also asked to specify the student body that would use the instrument.
Pilkenton said support letters from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier System Center were included in the application.
Pilkenton said, “A lot of schools don't have these pieces of equipment. So, it's something that future Framingham State students will be able to use. Students at other schools wouldn't have that opportunity.”
She added, “These are great resources for our students to have. It'll be great for them to be able to operate and have experiences.”
Waetzig said she hopes the new equipment will help with recruitment.
She said, “We're grateful for the support of MLSC because these are not cheap instruments - obviously a half million dollars and we're only getting two instruments. Without the money, things would have been a lot harder and our students wouldn't have had that benefit.”