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Chemistry Upgrades Technologies

Feb. 8 - Berea College's Chemistry Department is undergoing a technological upgrade, one machine and teaching tool at a time.

Two Chemistry students try out the new technology in the department.

Dr. Mark Cunningham and Dr. Paul Smithson became involved with an American Chemistry Association led National Science Foundation funded program to enhance chemistry education through computer and flash technology. Cunningham and Smithson, two professors in Berea's Chemistry Department, are working in collaboration with Lee University professor Dr. Eddie Brown to test a set of online chemistry tutorials, homework sets, and quizzes. Boasting a computer application known as "Flash," the new programs are interactive and will be made available to all BC science students, especially those in general, environmental, and organic chemistry. Flash technology can be used to demonstrate how a particular chemical or biological process occurs using sound, motion and other visual effects.

Though the exercises are time sensitive, they may be configured to provide self study exercises allowing the student to work at their own pace. Smithson is enthusiastic about the computer programs. "My favorite activities are the timed quizzes." Smithson says. "They have the feel of a video game, and you really focus on the task to try and beat the clock. If you beat the clock with a perfect score you are done, reward!! Otherwise, you have to do the quiz five or ten or even twenty times. It provides incentive to work on learning the material all chemists need to know, and to focus strongly on the quizzes, avoiding the distractions that interrupt regular reading and homework.

Recently, Dr. Matthew Saderholm received an automated peptide synthesizer purchased in part with funds from the National Institutes of Health. The synthesizer, which has automated the process of creating peptide bonds, promises to give quick results and research opportunities to both students and Chemistry professors alike. "A peptide that it took us well over a week to make before could be made in a day now. This is important for us because most of my research happens in the summer, and I need to have projects that can be pursued quickly in order to have students leave with a complete project in 8 weeks. Students will also leave with a very practical skill, as pharmaceutical companies have rediscovered peptide-based drugs recently," comments Dr. Saderholm.

Dr. Jay Baltisberger also oversaw the $80,000 Nuclear Magnetic Spectroscopy (NMR) machine upgrade, purchased with funding from the appropriations awarded to Berea College by Senator Jim Bunning. This piece of equipment, which is used to determine how a molecule is put together, was purchased in 1999 for $200,000 with a grant from the National Science Foundation. This year, a portion of the Bunning appropriations money was used to upgrade the machine. "Basically for another $80,000 we were able to reset the clock on the life of the instrument back to zero. This instrument has served us very well these last 6 years and should continue to be one of the most heavily used chemistry instruments for years to come," said Baltisberger. The NMR machine will be available for student use, but it will also allow Baltisberger to do pulse sequence development research that he's had on hold since his return from a sabbatical in France.

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