Making NMR Resonate With Students: Integrating NMR Into the Undergraduate Science Curriculum

Merideth Frey
Physics Faculty Member
Sarah Lawrence College

Need: Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is an important tool in the modern STEM workforce that uses the properties of atomic nuclei in a magnetic field to provide information about the chemical composition and structure of a sample. NMR also provides the foundation for more in-depth explorations in a variety of scientific disciplines – ranging from pharmacology to quantum computing. Despite the prevalence of NMR as an essential research tool across a wide variety of STEM fields, there has historically been an inequality of access to this important piece of laboratory equipment due to its high cost and maintenance requirements. Fortunately, the recent development of inexpensive benchtop NMR spectrometers, along with freely available online simulations, offer great opportunities for predominantly undergraduate institutions to give their students relevant hands-on learning and research skills with this essential tool in the modern STEM workforce. Unfortunately, there is no set of curricular materials that: cover the full spectrum of NMR in a multidisciplinary fashion; make broad use of research-based science pedagogy in curricular material design; provide materials for all levels of the undergraduate curriculum; and can be used with or without access to a particular NMR apparatus. This project fills this curricular gap by establishing an interdisciplinary and cross-institutional team to develop, assess, and disseminate curricular material that integrates NMR into the undergraduate science curriculum.

Guiding Questions: Through this work, we hope to advance knowledge and understanding of best practices to implement an interdisciplinary, course-based undergraduate research experience in different institutional environments, as well as assess the effectiveness of these materials with or without direct access to an NMR system.

Outcomes: At the conclusion of this grant, we will have completed the development and testing of curricular materials consisting of twenty-five 1.5-hour modules and associated instructional guides and online resources. All the modules will be developed with the help of undergraduate students and then vetted by an advisory board of NMR and science education specialists. Undergraduate students will play an integral role throughout the entire research, development, and dissemination of this work, and this poster will focus on how undergraduates are being integrated into the overall project and research plan.

Broader Impacts: The proposed work provides interdisciplinary exercises for students built around the development of highly-applicable research skills and provides the opportunity for positive attitudinal shifts to help them persist and thrive in STEM. The collaboration between Sarah Lawrence College and City College of New York will enable us to develop and test the adaptability of our material in different teaching environments, greatly enhancing our impact on the broader scientific community. Along with providing easy-to-implement, research-based materials to incorporate into their courses, we will be leading professional development workshops for faculty to learn how to best adapt the material for their particular needs. This project is designed to benefit all undergraduate science programs but will have the most impact at primarily undergraduate institutions with limited access to research experiences and historically underserved student populations.


Colin Abernethy, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY; David Gosser, City College of New York, New York City, NY