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New spectrometer puts Otago ahead

Monday, 6 November 2017

A cutting edge machine ... Researchers (from left) Dr Eng Wui Tan, Dr Sean Mackay and Dr Brian Kueh with the new spectrometer which will enhance research within the Department of Chemistry.

A new spectrometer, recently purchased by the University’s Department of Chemistry, is allowing Otago researchers to work at the cutting edge of their field.

The spectrometer measures fluorescence – the emission of light from a material as a result of a shorter wavelength being shone on it, such as the glow of some objects under black light.

Chemistry’s Dr Eng Wui Tan says many areas of research within the Department use fluorescence molecules and nanoparticles as markers or probes because they are easy to detect above the background.

"It is really easy to run complex measurements and experiments effectively."

“It’s not unlike the reasoning behind using a fluorescent highlighter pen,” Dr Tan explains. “Even very tiny amounts of fluorescent materials can be detected, which gives rise to very sensitive detection and measurement. Moreover, their fluorescence characteristics often change depending on their environment, so measuring changes in fluorescence also gives information about the local environment the molecules are in.”

He says an example is using a fluorescent molecule as a proxy for a drug molecule – to see both how fast the drug is delivered, and where it ends up.

“One of the major activities in Chemistry is making new molecules and materials. As the general interest in fluorescent probes is high there are projects in the Department that are aimed at making new synthetic fluorescent molecules and materials.

“The modern capabilities of the new machine allows greater insight into their fluorescence characteristics and how these are related to their structure.”

Dr Tan says the new machine is very versatile and is extremely user friendly.

A trusty workhorse ... the 20-year-old spectrometer that has been replaced.

>“It is really easy to run complex measurements and experiments effectively.”

But he also speaks very respectfully of the 20-year-old workhorse this machine replaces.

“The old machine did not have modern capabilities, and as a result didn't encourage cutting edge scientific research. Indeed, it was holding back some of the research in the Department. Having said that, it has been incredibly reliable and its many years of service are very much appreciated.”