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Dr Anneke Lubben, next to a mass spectrometer
Dr Anneke Lubben, next to a mass spectrometer

Press Release - 19 February 2007

High-tech equipment will help research into greener cars

A unique piece of chemical equipment will allow the University of Bath to carry out cutting-edge research into areas as diverse as hydrogen fuels, new drugs and innovative plastics.

The University’s Department of Chemistry has bought two mass spectrometers worth £540,000 which can analyse the chemical structure of samples of materials smaller than the eye can see.

The instruments will be used to help with research related to hydrogen-powered cars that do not pollute the environment – as part of this, chemists at the University have invented a material which stores and releases hydrogen at room temperature. This could help make hydrogen power a viable clean technology for the future, but in order to be sure about their work chemists need to know exactly which compounds they are producing.

Other uses include helping research into innovative polymers that can be used to coat windows for self-cleaning or to block glare but still let light through.

Mass spectrometry is a technique used to weigh samples on a molecular level. The molecules are put into an electric or magnetic field where they separate according to their mass, which is then detected very accurately. By knowing the mass accurately it is possible to identify what it is made up of, which helps to tell scientists what chemicals and impurities are present.

One of the mass spectrometers is coupled to an airless chamber where researchers can work on their samples using special gloves. This allows compounds to be analysed without exposing them to air or moisture, an experiment which is crucial for the chemists. This is the only ‘glove box’ and mass spectrometer combination in Europe.

The equipment was bought from Bruker Daltonics Ltd in Coventry using a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will be available for use by departments other than Chemistry, and by outside organisations needing this type of analysis.

The setting up of the mass spectrometry service complements the recent expansion of the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) facilities. At the end of 2006 two new NMR spectrometers were installed, following a successful bid to the EPSRC for funding of £395,000.

NMR spectroscopy is a useful analytical technique for chemists, and uses similar technology to MRI scanners in hospitals. The department now has four state-of-the-art NMR spectrometers, which are used for a wide range of analytical applications.

In addition to the mass and NMR spectrometers, the department also has world-class X-ray crystallography facilities.

“The new facilities will allow us to analyse samples more quickly and with greater sensitivity, to give us a new perspective on what is in them,” said Dr Anneke Lubben, Mass Spectrometrist and editor of the official publication of the British Mass Spectrometry Society, who works with Dr John Lowe, NMR Spectroscopist.

“By being much more precise, we can help chemists to be much more accurate in their development of new technology. This puts Bath at the forefront of this type of analysis.”

Contact Dr Lubben for more details.

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Notes

1. The instruments purchased are an electrospray time-of-flight mass spectrometer (ESI-TOF) coupled to a liquid-chromatography system for routine analysis of reactions, and an electrospray quadrupole time-of-flight (ESI-QTOF) coupled to a glove box for the analysis of air and moisture sensitive compounds. The new NMR facilities are: a 500 MHz and a 250 MHz NMR spectrometer.


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