Spectrophotometer Upgrade Installed

Chemistry instrument puts Knox in lead for undergraduate research

February 07, 2008

Students at Knox College are among the first undergraduates in the nation to get their hands on an upgrade to one of the key instruments for chemical analysis in classes, labs and advanced research.

Supported by a grant of $30,000 from the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation, Knox recently upgraded its Olis RSM 1000 spectrophotometer. The device explores chemical reactions by projecting various wavelengths of light through a sample chamber, then collecting and analyzing extensive data on the interaction between the light and the sample.

"The Olis spectrophotometer gives students a sophisticated, hands-on understanding of key chemical and physical principles," said Lawrence Welch, professor of chemistry, who is installing the upgrades this term. "It's used to analyze countless chemical and biochemical compounds, including critical biomedical assays, such as a PSA test for prostate-specific antigen."

The upgrade has boosted the sensitivity and data analysis capacity of the spectrophotometer.

"The Olis 1000 is a very high quality instrument -- state of the art when we purchased it in 2000, and this upgrade provides Knox students with the newest instrumentation on the market today, with uses and applications far beyond what have been possible to date," Welch said.

Knox's instrument also features an entirely new module that observes circularly polarized fluorescence, a breakthrough method that measures the orientation of the light waves emitted by the sample, Welch said.

"Dr. Richard DeSa, the president of Olis and the inventor of this spectrophotometer, gave us a module for circularly polarized fluorescence, which has only just begun to be used in the field," Welch said. "It's so new that I believe Knox is among the first colleges to design undergraduate research projects using this cutting-edge methodology."

Even in the world of research equipment, where devices are often custom-built for each installation, Knox's instrument is distinctive, Welch said. "Spectrophotometers are usually set up for just one kind of experiment, but unlike most research labs we're doing many different experiments, so we reconfigure ours all the time," Welch said.

"I'm planning on graduate school in organic chemistry research, and it's a great advantage to get experience at Knox in three kinds of spectroscopy -- Raman, observance and fluorescence -- with one device," said Toshia Zessin, a junior chemistry major from Glasford, Illinois, who worked extensively with the spectrophotometer prior to the upgrade. Starting in early February, she and other students in this term's course in Chemical Instrumentation are the first to get their hands on the new version.

The Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation was established by Ellen Browning Scripps, an 1859 Knox graduate and journalist who was involved in the founding of several newspapers that eventually formed the Scripps news syndicate and, later, United Press news service, the predecessor to UPI. The foundation has supported programs in a wide range of fields, including education, health care, science and the environment.

The spectrophotometer upgrade is the second science grant in the past two years that Knox has received from the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation. A 2006 grant supported the recently completed renovation of a biology laboratory. The Foundation has supported a number of other projects at Knox, including a faculty position in journalism, and startup grants for an Internship Program and the Center for Community Service.

"Mrs. Scripps is one of Knox College's most distinguished female graduates, and The Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation has had an incalculable impact on generations of Knox students and has sustained Knox's position among the leading liberal arts colleges in the nation," said Knox College President Roger Taylor.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 45 states and 44 nations. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Spectrophotometer Laboratory
Knox College professor Larry Welch and student Toshia Zessin work with the Olis RSM 1000 spectrophotometer