Gift Brings State-of-the-Art Spectroscopy Facility to Penn

A gift to Penn Engineering and Penn Arts & Sciences from the Linda Ye and Robin Ren Family Foundation will fund the construction of a state-of-the-art nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) facility — which includes a suite, instrumentation lab and office — in the Vagelos Laboratory for Energy Science and Technology (VLEST) building.

Slated for completion in 2025, VLEST is a cornerstone of Penn Engineering’s Signature Initiative in Energy and Sustainability and will accelerate the pace of scientific advances in sustainable energy at Penn, forging the path to urgently needed solutions. Strategically located at 32nd and Walnut Streets, the site’s proximity to existing University engineering and science facilities promotes campus connectivity and collaboration.

“The NMR Suite will allow Penn Engineers and their collaborators to determine how best to design materials when developing the next generation of energy technologies like solar cells and quantum devices,” says Cherie Kagan, Stephen J. Angello Professor in Electrical and Systems Engineering and Associate Dean for Research at Penn Engineering. “This is an exciting opportunity that places Penn at the forefront of addressing the effects of climate change, the sustainable supply of energy, and the reduction of energy demand.”

The highly visible NMR Suite, Office and Instrumentation Lab will be situated on the first floor of VLEST and will support innovative projects at the frontiers of clean energy research and sustainability. This 2,500-square-foot facility will centralize core equipment and bring leading energy researchers together in the same space. The Suite will be able to accommodate two NMR spectrometers, one of which will be equipped to handle solid-state samples.

Solid-state NMR spectroscopy, a technology that is currently unavailable to scientists in the Philadelphia region, allows scientists to characterize solid materials at the atomic level, and is critical for analyzing new materials for batteries, fuel cells and other energy-related applications.

In addition, plans are for the Suite to eventually house a high-frequency electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectrometer, which is used to examine semiconductors, photovoltaic materials and photocatalysts. Both NMR and EPR require very cold temperatures and are cooled with liquid helium, and the Suite will feature a system to sustainably recycle this scarce resource.

The adjoining Instrumentation Lab will bring together additional equipment to study the composition and structure of materials, including an X-ray diffractometer, an X-ray photoelectron spectrometer, gas and liquid chromatographers coupled to mass spectrometers, and a scanning electron microscope.

“Having solid-state NMR capability at our fingertips is essential to advancing not only my group’s research in understanding the phase behavior of polymers under extreme nanoconfinment,” says Daeyeon Lee, Professor and Evan C Thompson Term Chair for Excellence in Teaching in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and head of the Soft Materials Research and Technology (SMART) Lab, “but also the School’s vital role as a collaborator across Penn and other partner institutions in the U.S. and the world.”

The Linda Ye and Robin Ren Family Foundation is dedicated to supporting research that addresses climate change, helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds access and afford a college education, and increasing the understanding of Asian health needs. The Foundation has previously generously supported undergraduate financial aid and the China Education Initiative, as well as Amy Gutmann Hall, which serves as a hub for cross-disciplinary collaborations that harness expertise in data science research and education.