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Break-in baffles chemistry department

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Iraj Parchamazad, professor and chair of the chemistry department, stood in shock when he walked into the custom-made Nuclear Magnetic Resonance laboratory, and discovered that the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer had been turned off.

This machine, funded by the Keck Foundation, cost close to $1 million to purchase and install, and is a relatively new addition to the chemistry department.

The state-of-the-art NMR machine is used for research and is an important component in the determination of molecular structure.

Parchamazad was escorting students to the laboratory on Oct. 14 to show them the machine, when, upon entering, he noticed that the machine was off.

“This struck me as odd because there are several steps to turning off the machine,” Parchamazad said. “All the parts were there, no machinery was missing.”

Parchamazad was justifiably upset when he saw the silent piece of equipment.

If it is not properly shut down it could be damaged.

There is temperature and humidity-controlled liquid helium in the machine, which also makes it potentially dangerous.

After closer inspection, it was discovered that nothing had been broken or taken, except for a notebook that also served as a logbook for students.

Parchamazad believes that the thieves might have thought that the notebook contained important notes on fuel cells, another project that the chemistry chair has been researching for years.

Michael Nuñez, director of campus safety, was one of the few to inspect the room after the incident.

Nuñez describes the room as “very restrictive, as far as key access.”

He said that so far, there are no suspects.

Parchamazad and Nuñez both mentioned that there have been additional security measures taken.

“We’ve had the alarm company come in and re-design the security system,” Nuñez said. “That will discourage anyone to enter who does not have proper permission.”

On top of changing the alarm, there is also a special card reader, new keys and frequent vigilance.

When asked what she thought about the break-in, Danielle Lampkin, a communications/public relations major, who lives on campus, also touched upon the security issue.

“Secure the premises,” Lampkin said. “I feel that for the amount of money we pay for tuition, they should install cameras in a room with such an important piece of equipment.”

Besides the scare and bafflement, no real damage was done to the expensive laboratory and equipment.

Brucker, the manufacturer of the machine, replaced some parts and the machine is functioning well.

Chemistry and biology students will still be able to benefit from the potential of such an extraordinary piece of equipment.

Parchamazad predicts that there will be great results from studying with this machine.

“Chemistry is really moving ahead to the next level,” Parchamazad said. “Students can be involved in hands-on instrumentation…which helps their education, making it easy to go on to graduate school.”

Cindy Lopez can be reached at

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