EDUCATION: Shedding Light on Spectroscopy

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Science  13 Sep 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5588, pp. 1775
DOI: 10.1126/science.297.5588.1775d

What does nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), the most widely used method for determining chemical structures, have to do with microwaving a turkey? Find out at the Science of Spectroscopy, a Web site designed to teach undergraduates about the use of light in chemical analysis. It takes a “spectroscopy in your everyday life” approach to teaching, says co-developer Stewart Mader, a chemistry instructor at the University of Hartford, Connecticut. The site begins with an introduction to light and its properties and builds toward applications of spectroscopy in consumer products, medicine, and space science.

For example, students will learn that NMR involves spectroscopy much like a microwave oven does. To determine where carbon and hydrogen atoms are located in a molecule, NMR uses low-energy radiation to stimulate the nuclei. Microwaves use slightly higher energy radiation to make water molecules oscillate at 2.45 billion times per second, causing the heat- producing friction that cooks food. Once the principles are clear, students can explore different techniques such as mass spectrometry, scanning electron microscopy, NMR, and interferometry (above) in greater detail, using virtual instruments that create sample data sets.

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