Amy Facility for Chemical Instrumentation continues to be valuable asset for Chemistry, College of Science


When Chemistry graduate student Shane Sullivan has a problem, he only has to go down the hall in Brown Laboratory to find a solution.

Sullivan is one of the many regulars that utilize the electronics and chemistry expertise in the Jonathan Amy Facility for Chemical Instrumentation.

“I am probably here almost every day,” Sullivan said. “We do a lot of instrumentation development in our lab. That’s mostly what I do and the Amy Facility is obviously very helpful with that.” 

The Amy Facility was established in 1989 in honor of Dr. Jonathan Amy’s years of dedicated service as an instrumentation specialist.  Dr. Amy arrived at Purdue as a Chemistry PhD student in 1955 and applied his penchant for electronics to his and others research problems.  The Amy Facility remains dedicated to the fusion of scientific knowledge with engineering expertise to further research efforts in the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University.”

Decades ago, Amy came to Purdue with an interesting skillset that included knowledge of electronics and chemistry, a unique combination at the time. Today, chemists are more tech-savvy but the Amy Facility’s experts are still needed daily.

Recently, Sullivan came to Amy’s newest instrumentation specialist, Greg Eakins, with a malfunctioning PMT array. Eakins has built equipment for Sullivan’s lab before. Sullivan is hoping to find a solution at the Amy Facility as estimates from the PMT array manufacturer, Hamamatsu, would cost thousands of dollars.

“It’s a 16-channnel PMT array and we are trying to detect photons in a spectral microscope with it,” Sullivan said. “Unfortunately it does not behave as specified. It’s a very slow response time. We’re here at the Amy Facility to see if we can modify it in-house to meet the specifications we need.

“We focus on the optic side but we have generating signal from lasers and other things, and we have to get that into the computer somehow. So you have this interface of optics and electronics, and that’s where the Amy Facility helps us out.”

Mike Everly, director of the Amy Facility, said the facility’s services sometimes extend past the Department of Chemistry. He has worked with other College of Science departments as well as programs in Chemical Engineering and Pharmacy.  The Amy Facility is always open to new challenges and finding solutions for others across campus and beyond.

“Sometimes we’re referred to as a well-known secret,” Everly said. “But we are reaching out and branching into new areas.”

Long-term projects include Chemistry Prof. Garth Simpson’s laser spectrometer for data acquisition and analysis at a fast rate. Everly and his team have been designing electronics and computer systems to coordinate oscillating mirrors in his system for the data collection and reconstructing an image from the acquired data. He can now detect crystals at far greater sensitivity than has been done previously. What used to take several minutes now takes several seconds.

Amy instrumentalists have also designed and built many of the building blocks of the main cold ion spectroscopy instrument at Purdue for professors Timothy Zwier and Scott McLuckey.

Testing on the sick PMT array is underway and Eakins believed the fix could be done. It’s yet another solution from the Amy crew.

“You get a wide variety of things,” Eakins said. “Some are simple and some are very complicated. We have a full spectrum of knowledge that can help us work through all of these different projects.

“It’s a lot of fun. It feels like we are contributing and doing something valuable towards their research efforts. It’s always different. I like doing it.”

Amy Facility work

Greg Eakins, instrumentation specialist at Amy Facility for Chemical Instrumentation, inspects a malfunctioning PMT array.

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