New Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry and Fluorescence facilities for the UEA Schools of Chemistry and Pharmacy

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Chemistry


To be effective, research in chemical sciences requires access to a very wide range of analytical techniques. Some are used to determine the structure of a molecule, some to determine its properties (for example light absorption or emission, magnetism, biological activity), others enable detection and quantification of known molecules in the environment, in organisms, or in reaction systems, and some can help with all three. As well as varying in their applications and power, these techniques also vary in their speed and ease of use: the most powerful techniques for structural determination are not usually the most appropriate for monitoring a fast reaction.

In this proposal, we will increase the range of chemical science feasible at UEA by filling two gaps in our range of analytical techniques. One, GC-MS, will enable us to better monitor reactions as they happen, informing us about their products, by products and mechanisms. Our current method for doing this, NMR, is powerful, but slower, inconvenient, harder to interpret - and the sample preparation required can affect the results. Results provided by the GC-MS will feed through into new and better catalysts and synthetic procedures for useful molecules: for example producing chemical feedstocks from waste products like CO2, or discovering new molecules with potential to act as drugs or as components in new materials.

The other, fluorescence/phosphorescence spectroscopy, is at the heart of many projects at the physical science/bioscience interface. Fluorophores and phosphors often change their light emission when they encounter other molecules - emission may be enhanced, switched off, its wavelength or time duration may change. As these changes are often very specific, monitoring emission provides an excellent means to detect biomarkers and other molecules in the environment, cells or organisms - this can contribute to our understanding of biology and biological chemistry and act as a basis for imaging and other diagnostic techniques. The new instrument will add to our capabilities by enabling long-wavelength excitation (useful for tissue penetration) and improved time resolution that can be used to study the fundamental physical processes (energy and electron transfer) underpinning these applications. It will also be useful for investigating the light emission properties of new materials we make for application in devices - such as displays, or optical telecommunications.

Planned Impact

We envisage impact in the following areas:

1) Training and Skills - The cohort of ECRs involved in this application are involved in training of undergraduates (for example final year research projects), Ph.D students and PDRAs. This activity provides the scientists of the future, and has economic impact through their employment in industry, and elsewhere. The new facilities will enhance the training received by our students and PDRAs, by exposing them to up-to-the minute equipment and techniques that may help them think about their science in new and different ways.

2) Economy, Society and Environment - The research areas to be supported by the proposed equipment purchase already make a large contribution to the UK economy. For example, catalysis supports 15% of our exports. Projects to be supported all have the potential to produce real world impact through patenting, licensing and spin out - activities which several of the bid team are already involved with. Potential developments from the projects to be supported include new, environmentally benign means to produce high value chemicals and fuels, new drugs and other therapeutic molecules, new means for detecting and diagnosing disease, new materials for application in photonic technologies.

3) Public engagement and Policy - much of the research to be supported by the proposed facilities is very appealing to the public. For example, diagnosing and treating disease with light, or converting the greenhouse gas CO2 into useful products, are excellent ways to interest people of all ages in fundamental and applied science. Work in such topical areas also brings opportunities to interact with policy makers and thus for science to influence the direction of public policy.


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