Teaching chemistry virtually

Is it possible to teach students the fundamentals of instrumental techniques, like FTIR, in a remote setting? The answer is a resounding yes.

The Thermo Scientific Nicolet Summit FTIR Spectrometer was designed with advanced connectivity features and new software to make 100% remote analysis possible. Students can collect, process, and analyze real spectral data without ever having to step foot into the chemistry lab.

The FTIR Virtual Lab contains three learning modules to help teach the fundamentals of FTIR spectroscopy to undergraduate chemistry students. Software workflows and online analysis tools walk students through the collection and processing steps, which can be done anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

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Ready to teach the fundamentals of FTIR with your Summit Spectrometer? Get started here.

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Learning Module 1 - Fundamentals of Collection Parameters

Learning module 1

FTIR spectroscopy contains several data collection parameters that can be changed to optimize a spectrum. This module teaches students about the impact of changing those collection parameters, including number of scans and resolution. See the effects that collection parameters have on signal-to-noise ratios and peak resolution.

Learning Module Goal: Understand the impact that changing collection parameters, including number of scans and spectral resolution, has on spectral data

Questions and observations that will be covered in Module 1:


  • What did you notice about the relative noise intensity of the three noise spectra?  Rank them in order from most to least noisy.
  • Is the decrease in noise exactly proportional to the number of scans?  Explain.
  • How many additional scans must be collected to reduce the noise of a spectrum by 3x?
  • What is the benefit of less noisy data?  What is the “cost”?
  • Besides increasing the number of scans, what other ways can we reduce the spectral noise?


  • What impact does resolution have on the spectral features?
  • Does improved resolution have an impact on every spectral feature, or just some?
  • What is the benefit of higher resolution?  Would you run every sample with high resolution?
  • Is higher resolution most important for solid, liquid, or gas analysis?  Why?
  • Why does it take longer to collect higher resolution data?

Learning Module 2 - Polymer Analysis

Learning module 2

Peak locations, peak heights, functional group ID etc… are all important analysis skills for students to learn. The Polymer Analysis module uses the internal polystyrene standard located in the instrument to quickly collect a high-quality polystyrene spectrum. Then, students will conduct basic FTIR processing and analysis steps to correlate the polystyrene spectrum with its chemical structure.

Learning Module Goal: Correlate spectral peak locations with chemical structure / functional groups of polystyrene and explain the significance of peak heights and peak areas

Questions and observations that will be covered in Module 2:

  • What main functional groups are present in the chemical structure of polystyrene? List each functional group and its corresponding peak location.
  • Explain the differences in the two annotated peak areas.  Why is one area larger than the other? What does that indicate?
  • Explain the differences int the two annotated peak heights.  Why is one height larger than the other? What does that indicate?
  • Why are there two CH stretching peak locations near 3000 cm-1? If they are all CH stretching peaks, why do they appear at slightly different locations?

Learning Module 3 - ATR Analysis

Learning module 3

Most FTIR systems that students encounter in industry will use an attenuated total reflectance (ATR) accessory. Collecting data through an ATR accessory fundamentally changes the peak intensities, which can impact spectral library searching results. This module clearly shows the difference between transmission and ATR spectra, along with the impact it can have on library searching and material identification.

Learning Module Goal: Understand why ATR analysis changes the relative peak intensities of a spectrum and investigate the impact of ATR correction on spectra library searching

Questions and observations that will be covered in Module 3:

  • Explain the change in relative peak intensities from the ATR correction. Which peak heights increase and which ones decrease when a spectrum is collected in ATR vs. transmission mode?
  • Why do relative peak intensities change when a spectrum is collected with an ATR accessory? (Hint: consider the ATR depth of penetration equation)
  • From your OMNIC Anywhere report, identify which spectrum has the ATR correction applied. How much of an improvement in the library match value was observed?
  • Why is it important to correct an ATR spectrum before comparing it to a transmission-based spectral library? How else could you achieve a high library match without having to perform an ATR correction?

Ready to start your virtual lab?

Be sure to download these assets before you begin:

  1. Read the FTIR Virtual Lab – Setup Instructions to configure your instrument for remote operation.
  2. Download the FTIR Virtual Lab Folder - Learning Module Workflows (zip folder)
OMNIC Anywhere

In the set up, the professor and each student will need to create a free Thermo Fisher Connect account to access and analyze the data from the FTIR Virtual Lab. The Thermo Scientific OMNIC Paradigm Software located on the instrument will be used to drive the data collection. Data analysis will be done by each student individually in the OMNIC Anywhere cloud-based application.