TitleInstrument upgrade for MSU undergraduate and graduate student education Request Date2012-11-30
DepartmentChemistry and Biochemistry
RequestorValerie Copie Phone406-994-7244
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts Chemistry & Biochemistry; Microbiology; Cell Biology & Neuroscience; Physics; Plant Sciences & Plant Pathology; Immunology & infectious diseases; Chemical & biological engineering; mechanical engineering; and research centers: the center for biofilm engineering, the thermal biology institute; the center for bioinspired nano materials
Proposed Dates Start: 03/01/2013 End: 02/28/2014
This is a one-time request for $250K to upgrade a 25-year old 500 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) instrument in the MSU NMR Core Facility. This instrument supports many research and teaching efforts across campus, and its use is growing. The 500 NMR provides hands-on research training for undergraduates (> ~ 120) and graduate students (> ~ 80) in nine Departments/three Colleges on an annual basis. While we have maintained the instrument in the best condition possible, the spectrometer electronics have become obsolete and cannot be fixed should a breakdown take place Ė which could happen at any time, considering the instrumentís age.
Upgrading this NMR instrument aligns with MSUís strategic goals of increasing undergraduate engagement in STEM research, integrating and elevating the level of learning and discovery, and promoting excellence and student success across a wide range of disciplines. The 500 NMR supports state-of-the-art education and research from diverse disciplines. Colleges and departments which take advantage of the unique resource offered by the 500 NMR include the College of Letters and Sciences (Dept Chemistry & Biochemistry; Dept of Cell Biology & Neuroscience, Dept of Microbiology, and the Physics Dept); College of Agriculture (Dept of Plant Sciences & Plant Pathology and Dept of Immunology & Infectious Diseases); College of Engineering (Dept of Chemical & Biological Engineering and Dept of Mechanical Engineering). In addition to Departments and Colleges, the 500 NMR is vital to research activities of several nationally renowned research centers including the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE), the Center for Bioinspired Nanomaterials (CBIN), The Thermal Biology Institute (TBI), as well as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research Program. This instrument contributes greatly to preparing students to obtain state-of-the-art technical and intellectual skills that make them much more competitive on the job market and much better equipped for productive careers following graduation.

Together with maintaining high-level student learning and training, this request for maintaining the 500 NMR as a state-of-the-art instrument will contribute greatly to attaining MSUís goal of increasing discovery, will help to raise MSUís national prominence in research, creativity, and scholarly achievement, and will contribute to maintaining and raising the Universityís standing as one of the nationís leading public research universities. MSU is at a delicate position, where it has done very well in improved education and research standing, but without close attention this standing could be rapidly lost. Maintaining our high technology tools and training, such at the NMR instrument under discussion, is crucial to MSUís position as a leading land grant university.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Materials & Supplies            
Contracted Services            
Capital 250000             
Other Operations            
TOTAL 250000     
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

This one-time request of $250K would be devoted to upgrading the electronics console of a 25-year old high magnetic field strength 500 MHz (1H Larmor frequency) nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) instrument.  This instrument is a workhorse for training and research in the chemical and biological sciences at MSU and is used to determine the chemical structures and quantitate the concentration of a variety of biological molecules present in diverse samples of interest.  The 500 MHz NMR had an initial cost of over $500K when it was purchased 25 years ago and it has provided excellent service.  Should this instrument need to be replaced by a new 500 NMR instrument it would cost over $750K. The expensive superconducting magnet of the current 500 NMR is still in good condition, and investing $250K in the modernization of the electronics is the wisest avenue to maintain the instrument and elevate it to state-of-the-art performance.


With the requested upgrade, this instrument would be highly useful for the next 15 or more years. The NMR is a Bruker DRX500, whose current electronic console (including radio frequency electronics, amplifiers, etc) is obsolete and is no longer maintained by the manufacturer, which is the exclusive vendor of parts. The expensive superconducting magnet is in good shape and is expected to have a long, continuing life for 15 or even more years.  The company is quoting a price of $299.9K to upgrade MSU’s Bruker DRX500 to their greatly improved, state-of-the-art, higher performance and sensitivity-enhanced AVANCEIII electronics console. If the present request is awarded, we will raise the remaining ~ $50K from research grants and/or IDC returns. We are confident that an allocation of $250K from MSU’s strategic investment funds will provide the necessary support and leverage to accomplish the instrument upgrade. We will also negotiate further with Bruker to obtain the best price possible. No other costs are involved for this project.

Describe the Proposal

This one-time request of $250K is to upgrade a 25 year-old 500 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) instrument located in the NMR Instrument Core Facility at Montana State University Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. This instrument plays a central role in the educational and research mission of Montana State University. NMR is the most widely used method for identification and validation of molecular structures and is also increasingly being used in the biological and biomedical sciences for enhancing our knowledge of metabolism and energy consumption in cells. While this NMR instrument is located in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, it is a campus-wide resource and is utilized by a broad community of researchers and students on the campus. The 500 NMR instrument is the workhorse of MSU’s high field NMR core facility and serves to educate > 200 undergraduate and graduate students from all over the campus each year in state-of-the-art analytical methods. The number of students is estimated from the actual number of undergraduate majors and graduate students in the Chemistry and Biochemistry; not all students from Chemistry use the 500 NMR directly, but many others from the other departments mentioned do use this instrument.

In addition to the research training of undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, the 500 NMR supports state-of-the-art research of a broad group of researchers from diverse disciplines. Colleges and departments which take advantage of the unique resource offered by the 500 NMR include the College of Letters and Sciences (Dept Chemistry & Biochemistry; Dept of Cell Biology & Neuroscience, Dept of Microbiology, and the Physics Dept); College of Agriculture (Dept of Plant Sciences & Plant Pathology; and the Dept of Immunology & Infectious Diseases); College of Engineering (Dept of Chemical & Biological Engineering and Dept of Mechanical Engineering). In addition to Departments and Colleges, the 500 NMR is vital to research activities of several nationally renowned research centers including the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE), the Center for Bioinspired Nanomaterials (CBIN), The Thermal Biology Institute (TBI), and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research Program. Existing research programs such as the NIH funded grant for the development of MRI contrast agents, which includes 3 undergraduates and 3 graduate students, are absolutely dependent on the continued operation of this instrument.

The requested 500 NMR instrument upgrade will enhance sensitivity and maximize the ability to collect valuable data on a wide variety of sample types, allowing determination and confirmation of chemical structures. The NMR is also increasingly used for quantitative determination of small molecule metabolites in a wide range of biological and engineering applications. The upgrade will contribute significantly to the successful completion of diverse NMR-based research projects, including projects involving Plant Sciences, Systems Biology, metabolomics, biofuels, and biomedical research. It is the instrument of choice to characterize small molecules of interest to organic chemists, bioinorganic chemists, biochemists and molecular biologists.

The requested instrument upgrade is absolutely essential, if we are to maintain MSU’s research productivity, the quality of undergraduate and graduate student training in the life sciences. Should the instrument fail at this time, at least $10M in research dollars are at stake, in addition to a very negative impact on graduate students’ ability to complete their PhD training in the chemical and biological sciences in a timely manner and would weaken considerably undergraduate education at many levels.  The  > $10M estimate of research dollars at stake is most likely a very conservative estimate of research $ involved, since at least ten research grants depend on the NMR in addition to a significant portion of the $11M MSU CoBRE “Center for the Analysis of Cellular Mechanisms and Systems Biology” renewal proposal now under review.

In addition to its importance for high impact science, the 500 NMR upgrade is absolutely essential to maintain the quality of student training. Montana State University is almost unique in the scale of activities that provides direct, hands-on undergraduate student access to state-of-the-art research equipment – the 500 NMR is an integral component of this training and contributes to the type of undergraduate education in STEM sciences that produces Rhodes Scholars and Goldwater Fellows.  Many, many students gain advanced training in research methods and there are large numbers of highly trained students behind the number of prestigious Fellows that MSU faculty have mentored and produced. Over 200 undergraduate and graduate students have made or make use of the NMR resources provided by Montana State University NMR Core Facility in the recent past.  The availability and use of state-of-the art NMR tools for research for undergraduates and graduate students tend to have a broader impact on overall student performance and aspirations in addition to its benefit on direct student users, because students talk among themselves a great deal and the more advanced activities they are involved in tend to raise the aspirations and performance of a much broader range of students!

Alarmingly, if the 500 NMR breaks down right now, we have no way of repairing its electronic console, as the instrumentation is obsolete and is no longer supported by the vendor, Bruker Inc. (which is a common policy in the industry for older instruments).   Replacing the existing 500 NMR with a new spectrometer would cost close to $800K – a price that MSU cannot afford at this time – nor can we afford to “lose” the current 500 NMR to breakdown in instrument electronics. We believe that the $250K requested would be a very wise investment for Montana State University, which will allow to keep the 500 NMR state-of-the-art and usable for at least the next 15 years. The return of investment both in terms of research and student education would be abundant and guaranteed. In short, this request is a highly desirable investment, which is absolutely critical if we are to maintain Montana State University’s research productivity and quality of undergraduate and graduate student education.

Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

The 500 NMRinstrument provides hands-on research training for undergraduates and graduate students spanning nine Departments in three Colleges (and interest has also been expressed by the College of Nursing), and three research Centers. Over ~ 80 chemistry and biochemistry majors, not to mention numerous CBN, microbiology, and engineering undergraduates utilize the instrument over the course of their undergraduate research experience.  Just in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry alone, PIs typically accept ~ 4 to 7 undergrads across disciplines and departments in each of their laboratories to conduct undergraduate research – with a faculty of 18, this amounts to ~ 70 to 90 undergrads involved in research during the academic year. This number is likely to increase as MSU’s student enrollment increases.

The 500 NMR is also used heavily by summer REU students during their research internship at MSU, and undergraduate students supported by MSU’s Undergraduate Scholar Program during both summers and academic years. The NSF-funded REU program targets Native American students and students from small colleges within the upper northwest region of the country, and has been very successful at engaging students in research and encouraging them to pursue professional careers in the biological and biochemical sciences. The 500 NMR is key to PhD graduate students training not only in Chemistry & Biochemistry but to those enrolled in the campus-wide Molecular Sciences Graduate Program, Microbiology, Immunology & Infectious Diseases, Cell Biology & Neuroscience, Chemical and Biological Engineering – to name a few.

The 500 NMR upgrade is also absolutely essential for the successful recruiting of new Assistant Professors in searches currently going on in the research fields of organic and bioinorganic chemistry (and likely in other departments such as the Departments of Microbiology and Immunology & Infectious Diseases) —that are heavy users of NMR. Access to up-to-date instrumentation is absolutely vital to the success of recruiting well-qualified faculty, and the 500 NMR upgrade is crucial to this endeavor.

This proposal also targets many of the goals outlined in MSU’s strategic plan, as the 500 NMR is made accessible to a broad community of users (students, faculty, postdoctorals, and research professors). Such open access contributes to interdisciplinary student training and education. It integrates student learning with discovery and engagement, promotes scholarly excellence and student success, and helps circumvent research silos between departments and colleges. Keeping the 500 NMR functional by replacing its obsolete electronics will enhance the research productivity of many MSU researchers across the campus. It will help raise MSU’s national and international prominence in research and will raise the university’s standing as one of the nation’s most distinguished public research universities where student education, discovery, and engagement are integrated components of the university’s mission.           

Implementation Plan

As mentioned, we have contacted Bruker Inc. and obtained a quote for the instrument upgrade. Should the requested $250K in funds be awarded, we can place an immediate order to Bruker, and would have the new console delivered within 6 months of placing a purchase order.As soon as we have a favorable decision on the requested funds, we expect that it will take no more than a week or two to obtain commitments of the balance of the funds needed.  We will then contact Bruker Inc. and place an order for the 500 NMR instrument upgrade. Bruker requests 60% of the payment with the order, 30% upon delivery (which will take place ~ 6 months following equipment order) and 10% upon demonstration of meeting specifications. Installation of the 500 NMR console will be done by Bruker engineers who will come on-site to install the new AVANCE IIITM console – this usually takes approximately two days and is included in the cost of the upgrade. We thus anticipate minimal instrument downtime for the installation (provided that no catastrophic breakdown of the old console takes place in the meantime). In summary, this means that within a 6 to at maximum a 9 month period, we will be able to have the instrument 500 NMR operating reliably and upgraded to state-of-the-art performance.

Assessment Plan

First of all, the time line in the prior paragraph will be followed and contains major assessment milestones (obtaining the additional funds needed, ordering the equipment, installing the equipment, and meeting performance specifications).  In addition, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has progressed from being ranked #40 in the US in research productivity per faculty member six years ago to #28 in the US this year, according to the National Science Foundation WEBCASPAR Database System (summarized in Chemical & Engineering News, October 22, 2012, pages 36 to 40). Thus, a major means of assessment will be the maintenance of our top 30 ranking or very possibly advancing in the ranking.  Finally, there are natural assessment criteria, such as the numbers of undergraduate and graduate students trained, student admissions to highly ranked graduate and professional schools that will be maintained or substantially increased, and increase in research productivity (grants funded; faculty awards, top-tiered publications).

            Another part of our assessment plan will be to track undergraduate students who are involved in NMR research (Chemistry & Biochemistry, microbiology, Cell Biology & Neuroscience majors and others) and track which graduate school or professional school they attend. Several recent undergraduate students with whom the PI has been engaged with (or has known of) in recent years have gone on to graduate school at MIT (2), Stanford (3), UC Berkeley (1), UCLA (1), and other nationally renowned programs (and at many other universities with stronger academic ranking than MSU including OSHU, Univ. of Washington, Colorado State University, Univ. of Colorado, Univ. of Oregon; Univ. of Utah, Univ. California-Santa Cruz, Univ. of Minnesota, Univ. of Santa Barbara). Our goal is to continue producing undergraduate science majors who are strongly prepared so that their opportunities for graduate, medical, or other professional schools are as vast as for students who received undergraduate degrees from Ivy League and other leading universities. We will examine metrics to assess students’ ability to engage in productive career paths following their graduation from Montana State University. Another part of our assessment will be to monitor if graduate students graduate with their PhD in five years or less, and whether we are attracting stronger in-coming graduate students in our graduate programs.

If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

We are sure that we can meet the objectives within the one-year time frame outlined for the requested instrument upgrade. We have been excellent customers of Bruker Inc as all the NMR instruments on the MSU campus are from Bruker and we also have a major investment in Bruker Mass Spectrometer equipment. Bruker has worked very closely with us to meet budget demands and time frame milestones. We thus expect that this proposal, if selected, can be implemented exactly as stated, and will contribute significantly to the objectives of MSU strategic plan and the University’s tripartite mission.

Department Head: Mary Cloninger (
Dean/Director: Paula Lutz (
Executive/VP: Tom Mccoy (