CUNY Research Chemists Rejoice at Arrival of New Spectrometer

The level of excitement rose sharply among chemistry researchers at the City University on May 22. This was the long-awaited day that the installation was completed on a brand-new Varian Inova 500MHz Multinuclear Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer at City College’s Marshak Science Building.

  Researcher Padmanava Pradhan
CCNY Researcher Padmanava Pradhan, manager of the new spectrometer laboratory, with the new instrument. Photo, Summers/Nuñez

Professor Mahesh Lakshman, a coprincipal investigator on the team responsible for the purchase of the $520,000 instrument, hopes to be putting it through its paces over the summer in his field of research. Soon CUNY researchers will be using the spectrometer to illuminate the causes of cancer, discover new therapeutic compounds, and improve solid-rocket propellants.

Taking a broader view of the future, Lakshman also points out, “The new instrument will help us to develop a research infrastructure that will help us to recruit and retain outstanding faculty and graduate students, who will be eager to use the instrument in their research.” He is also happy to know the spectrometer and its 300 Mhz sidekick will also be used for teaching undergraduate and graduate students, particularly in a training course in advanced NMR techniques.

The Inova spectrometer, purchased with matching funds from the National Science Foundation, will enable scientists from many CUNY campuses to conduct nationally competitive, cutting-edge research in diverse areas of organic, bio-organic, inorganic, and analytical chemistry. It will also encourage multi-disciplinary collaborations ranging from organic synthesis and bio-organic chemistry to biochemistry and engineering.

Lakshman himself will be exploring the synthesis and study of unusual nucleosides (the basic building-blocks of DNA) as well as DNA that contains these unusual nucleosides. His research is particularly aimed at trying to understand the underlying pathways involved in cancer causation. His prime research concern, using the Inova, will be the unambiguous verification of chemically synthesized nucleosides that can then be inserted into small sections or “turns” of the double-helical strands of DNA.

The high-end spectrometer, which supersedes a lower-end 300Mhz spectrometer, will significantly upgrade the resolution capacity for analyzing spectral data of a wide range of molecules. It will also reduce the amount of material needed for analysis. “The interpretation of data will be much simpler,” Lakshman says, “especially for complex compounds. And any ambiguity in structural characteristics will be significantly lowered.”

Among the scientists eager to use the Inova—for which a special room has been redesigned and modified for temperature control—are several of Lakshman’s CCNY colleagues. Dr. Maria Luisa Tasayco will be examining protein fragments, and Dr. Valerie Balogh-Nair is planning to look for novel pharmacophores—compounds with therapeutic possibilities—that are effective against AIDS-related opportunistic infections.

Dr. Lane Gilchrist will study the S-layer protein of Lactobacillus brevis with a view to characterizing products formed in the molecular engineering of proteins and enzymes in order to enhance their natural functions. Dr. Theodore Axenrod will be focusing on N-nitramino and geminal difluoramino solid propellants. This, he hopes, will lead to the synthesis of high energy-density materials to be used as solid rocket propellants.

Dr. Padmanava Pradhan, the laboratory manager for the spectrometer, will himself be using it for stereo-chemistry research, in which the spatial orientation of atoms and substituent groups in organic compounds is plotted. “My focus will be on the interactions between proteins and DNA, with the ultimate goal of understanding better the causes of cancer and developing therapeutical agents,” he says.

Dr. Panayiotis Meleties of Bronx Community College will use the Inova for synthesis of a new class of man-made molecules that mimic natural molecules known to have anti-cancer antibiotic effects. And Dr. Robert Rothchild of John Jay College will use the Inova to study hindered molecular motions in novel “crowded” molecules. He hopes this research will provide better insight into basic behavior of molecules, which may lead to molecules of potential pharmacological and forensic importance.

Lakshman adds, “All of us who have been looking forward to a new NMR spectrometer are particularly grateful to Gillian Small, Associate University Dean for Research. Her assistance was crucial in getting all the participants together to request funds for it, and we are grateful to the NSF for the funds that made the Inova a reality.”


Novel Proteins and Other Inquiries

CUNY faculty have been honored this semester with major grants from foundations, government and industry. The awards, reflecting the diversity of scholarly interests of the faculty across the University, include research in bioengineering, biochemistry and disease control. What follows is a sampling. Visit for a complete listing.

“IGERT: Multiscale Phenomena in Soft Materials,” National Science Foundation, Morton Denn, Levich Institute, City College, $742,000.

“Engaging Latino Communities for Education Initiative,” W.K. Kellogg Foundation, M. Saravia-Shore, Lehman College, $400,000.

“Title V, Electronic Student Profiles,” U.S. Department of Education, J. LaPerla and K. Bonsignore, New York City College of Technology, $318,706.

“Teacher Quality Leadership Program,” New York State Education Department, K. Kinsler and M. Gamble, Hunter College, $235,000.

“Bridges to the Future Program,” U.S. National Institute of Health, C. Wu, LaGuardia Community College, $215,996.

“EDGE—Adult and Continuing Education Program,” New York State Education Department, J. MacKillop, City College, $196,001.

“China International Migration Project,” NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Z. Liang, Queens College, $138,600.

“Molecular Structure and Function of Protective Plant Polymers,” National Science Foundation, Ruth Stark, The College of Staten Island, $120,000.

“Characterization of Novel Proteins Involved in Sterol Homestasis,” Pfizer, G. Small, City College, $110,000.

“Asthma & Hazardous Substances Applied Research & Development: Mapping Air Toxics & Asthma in Greenpoint/Williamsburg,” PHS/Centers for Disease Control, J. Corburn and D. Kotelchuck, Hunter College, $100,000.

“Gear Up Program,” U.S. Department of Education, A. Kahn, LaGuardia Community College, $1,519,998.

“Comprehensive Career Development Program,” New York City Housing Preservation and Development, S. Watson, LaGuardia Community College, $1,469,661.

“National Center for Permanency Planning,” HHS/Administration for Children & Family Services, B. Leashore and G. Mallon, Hunter College School of Social Work, $1,150,000.


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