Harvey Mudd Professor of Chemistry Hal Van Ryswyk has teamed with Carleton College Professor of Chemistry Deborah Gross to publish a paper in the Journal of Chemical Education exploring a novel technique for probing the structure of large molecules.
Electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) is a new, powerful technique for probing molecular structures, especially those of biological interest. In their paper, titled “Examination and Manipulation of Protein Surface Charge in Solution with Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry,” the chemists describe SNAPP-MS—selective non-covalent adduct protein probing mass spectrometry—a technique that allows for the detailed examination of surface charges on proteins in solution.
Detailing surface charges is a necessary step in understanding protein folding and the three-dimensional structure of biomolecules. Both Carleton and Harvey Mudd College have ESI-MS instruments that are relatively uncommon in undergraduate colleges. Gross developed an open-ended laboratory experiment that illustrates the power of ESI-MS, and Van Ryswyk helped adapt it to other techniques. Several student researchers from both colleges were also active on the project.
The idea to pursue the research began in January 2011 when Van Ryswyk visited Carleton’s Department of Chemistry as an external reviewer. (Coincidentally, Van Ryswyk earned his bachelor’s degree from Carleton College in 1982.) Van Ryswyk, whose research focuses on solar energy conversion, and Gross, whose expertise is in atmospheric chemistry, had mutual interest in the novel ESI-MS technique and decided to team up on the research.
“This is a new field for me, pretty far removed from my main-line research,” says Van Ryswyk. “It’s also quite far removed from Professor Gross’ work. This was a case of a cool idea that we explored together for the simple joy of advancing the field.”
The Journal of Chemical Education is the world’s premier chemical education journal and the official journal of the Division of Chemical Education of the American Chemical Society, co-published with the American Chemical Society Publications Division.