DLSU, first PH private university to own P60-million NMR spectrometer

Inside the De La Salle University (DLSU) Laguna Campus lies one of the University’s newest technological investments: a P60-million Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer purchased last 2018. As part of DLSU’s goal to establish itself as a renowned research-centered institution, the administration pursues implementing initiatives that maintain and improve its research development plans.

At present, only four of this type of device are available in the Philippines. Apart from the University’s recent acquisition, the three other models are found in two universities; two are situated in the University of the Philippines (UP), and one is within Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU).


About the new device

Dr. Drexel Camacho, a professor from the Chemistry Department, explains that the nature of NMR spectroscopy, an analytical chemistry technique, is to determine the types of bonds involved and the corresponding molecular structure of atoms. According to him, the newly acquired device is also capable of analyzing mixtures of known compounds and studying its physical properties.

“This is the only instrument that will do that…it allows us to identify the atom, the bonding between them and eventually, we’ll be able to reconstruct the actual structure of the molecule,” he expounds.

He further emphasizes the importance of NMR and how it aids chemists in producing more accurate results. “That is very important for chemists because from the drawing, the structure itself, we can predict what will be its properties, reaction, usefulness, and so on,” he states.

Consequently, in terms of capacity, the devices housed in other universities only reach a frequency of around 400-500 MHz, while DLSU’s is expected to reach 600 MHz. This higher frequency corresponds to more cycles of electromagnetic radiation per second, which is crucial when studying molecules as this means that results will be produced in a lesser amount of time.



Preparations and groundwork

After a month of assembly, DLSU finally held a soft opening of the newly acquired NMR spectrometer last November 5. The decision to purchase the new machine did not happen overnight. In fact, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Dr. Raymond Tan reveals that plans to acquire the device were already in the works back in 2012, a year before he was appointed to the office.

“[There had been] discussions of building up the Laguna Campus, and part of it is a research station for the University, [which] began during the term of my predecessor, and the idea, which is essentially still the same concept today, is that we’ll have what is known as ‘core facilities’,” he narrates.

A core facility, as Tan explains, would be “a centralized facility that houses research equipment meant to serve the broad University community.” Put simply, the building which houses the new device would function as a laboratory accessible to anyone, even those not necessarily hailing from the DLSU Chemistry Department.

As expressed by Camacho, DLSU needs instruments at par with global standards in order to fulfill its desire to be a research-centered University. “The University requested the things that are important. The Chemistry Department indicated we needed [the] NMR because that’s the ultimate machine that will allow us to study molecules,” he elaborates.


On budget and maintenance

The upfront price of the NMR is P60-million, which does not cover future maintenance and usage costs. While UP and ADMU both acquired their respective NMR spectrometers through government funding and are both properties of the government, DLSU purchased the machine through its own funds. Camacho reveals that the University had been saving up for four years just to accumulate the needed cash.

Given that what was saved and spent was only for the acquisition cost, there is still a need to allocate a budget for its maintenance and operational needs, seeing that the machine is expected to run perpetually. Tan furthers, “[Essentially], if it’s running normally, it should be 24/7 [because the] room we have outfitted for it has backup air-conditioning, backup power supply, and so on.”

With this, Camacho discloses that anyone, including DLSU faculty and students planning on conducting tests using the machine will be charged a certain fee. However, the exact fee to be collected is not yet finalized.



A giant leap

This is not only an advantage to DLSU students in a science-related field. The machine is also a part of the University’s plan to make the Laguna Campus an international center for science and technology research. While DLSU has only recently acquired the NMR, both UP and ADMU have had their spectrometers for at least a few years. Camacho adds that the machine in ADMU is already 23 years old, while one of UP’s spectrometers is reportedly no longer functioning. He clarifies that external researchers have the opportunity to make use of DLSU’s device, especially when the machines in other schools are unavailable for use.

The use of the NMR spectrometer and other facilities are open to anyone. However, priority is given to DLSU students and faculty. As Tan states, with the NMR, “DLSU can become a magnet for international students to come in and spend their time here as exchange students.”

Having the National University of Singapore as an example, Tan emphasizes that many good universities around the world are highly internationalized, and DLSU is aiming to further its own internationalization by acquiring advanced equipment, such as the NMR spectrometer, and draw international students in.

By Danielle Aglubat

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