Equipped for the Future

As the department head for MIT Chemistry, I understand the critical need for tools that can keep pace with the research activity of our top-ranking chemistry department in the United States.

Strategically located in the heart of the campus, the Department of Chemistry Instrumentation Facility provides more than 500 members of the MIT community and beyond with critical characterization and analysis of chemical samples. This core facility provides our users with analytical instruments that would be prohibitively expensive for individual research groups to acquire or maintain.

However, several DCIF instruments have remained operational longer than their expected lifetimes. By the time an instrument is 12 to 15 years old, that instrument will be several model generations out of date. At present, the facility has four major instruments that are nearly 20 years old. The most recently acquired Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer was purchased just before I arrived as a junior faculty member in 1999.

In the Make-Measure-Model process of discovery, chemists synthesize molecules and materials, determine their structures, and examine their properties and functions. Based on these experiments, they then refine their hypotheses and designs. NMR spectroscopy and mass spectrometry are two critical analytical methods at the heart of this endeavor.

With advanced instrument age comes increased rates of failure. Researchers encounter the vexing problem of preparing precious samples that require immediate analysis, only to find that the analytical instrument they wish to use is down because another aged component has failed.

Our 600 MHz NMR instrument has a malfunctioning and outdated frequency synthesizer that requires repairs twice a year with parts that are virtually impossible to find. The system has a cryoprobe that ceased to function two years ago and our replacement probe only provides one-sixth the sensitivity of the original machine.

We increasingly rely on our in-house staff to keep our instruments functional because replacement parts for legacy systems aren’t available from the original manufacturer. In addition, instrumentation vendors often do not have field service engineers trained to repair instruments more than two generations old. Though our three full-time staff members provide excellent service, their time could be better spent in training and assisting users with their analysis rather than replacing yet another aged component on a failing machine.

The solution is to replace these aging instruments as they become outdated with new instruments.

New instruments are more sophisticated, with additional capabilities not available with older instruments. They fail less often and so realize a higher scientific throughput as well as a lower likelihood of experiment failure, especially important for precious, short-lived, and unstable chemical species. Moreover, we want to provide our students and postdoctoral fellows with the equipment they are likely to encounter once they leave MIT for other prestigious research institutes and cutting-edge industries.

Michael Sipser, dean of MIT School of Science, has recognized the critical need for new and reliable instrumentation for our researchers, but the price tag for replacing so many outdated instruments is significant at approximately $3 million.

The Dean and the Institute have committed to matching all donor gifts to the DCIF fund up to $2 million. Thus, one of my high priorities is raising an additional $1 million to complete the revitalization project.

Liz McGrath, our senior individual giving officer, and I are extremely grateful to Judith E. Selwyn PhD ’71 and Lee L. Selwyn PhD ’69 who kick-started our fundraising efforts with a lead gift of $100,000. Judy, who received her doctorate in chemistry, is a member of the Department of Chemistry Visiting Committee. Other committee members generously collectively contributed $60,500, which the department matched. With donations received to date, we have (at time of press in December 2017) achieved 60 percent of our goal.

With your help, we can provide our community with the tools necessary to maintain our strong record of achievement within MIT and the broader scientific community, pioneering advances in chemical research and incorporating these advances into our educational mission.

With 2:1 matching, every dollar you donate becomes $3 of support to this critical need. Gifts of $10,000 and greater will be acknowledged on a plaque displayed inside the facility and may be made in memory of, or in honor of, an individual(s).             
DCIF Partner                      $100,000+
DCIF Patron                        $50,000-$99,999
DCIF Benefactor               $25,000-$49,999
DCIF Sponsor                     $10,000-$24,999
Learn more:
Liz McGrath
Senior Individual Giving Officer
617.253.4080 | emg@mit.edu
Please contact Elizabeth Chadis if you are considering a gift to the School of Science:

Elizabeth Chadis

Assistant Dean for Development
t: 617-253-8903