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Most Powerful NMR Spectrometer Now Operational

The most powerful nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer in the world was recently inaugurated at Lyon's European Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Center (CRMN).(1) Gilberte Chambaud, director of CNRS' Institute of Chemistry, tells us about this exceptional instrument and how collective efforts and ambitious policies have made the project possible.

Can you tell us more about this newly inaugurated instrument?
Gilberte Chambaud:
It is a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer (see box) of unrivalled power. It was funded—to an amount of €11 million—by French national and regional institutions.2 This large apparatus, which weighs 12 tons and stands 5.2 meters high, will certainly allow significant advances in the structural analyses of molecules of interest for medicine, biology, or materials science. Its magnet can generate a magnetic field of 23.5 Teslas,3 i.e., about 500,000 times the magnetic field of Earth. This will make it possible to reach a “resonance frequency” of 1 Gigahertz (1000 MHz) for hydrogen atoms. Until now, the most powerful spectrometers in the world were limited to a frequency of 950 MHz. During the past 30 years, successive improvements in NMR techniques have led to new discoveries, and it is expected that this new step in technology will further advance the field.

What will be the specific use of this instrument ?
The teams with access to this machine are working on a large number of fundamental issues. For example, NMR spectroscopy can help detect structural alterations of molecules associated to cancer. Determining proteins' architectures and their dynamics could lead to the development of novel therapeutic compounds. The instrument can also be used to analyze the structure of materials like wood, glass, or concrete, or to improve the design of polymers. At least 70% of the projects are in chemistry and the life sciences.

This machine belongs to the ultra-high field NMR network.4 What is this network?
It is a large and unique research infrastructure spread on six sites throughout France, each combining a specific scientific expertise and a specific NMR spectrometer. The strength of this network stems from the excellence of its expert teams (45 researchers and engineers), internationally recognized in the field of solid inorganic or bioorganic NMR as well as in liquid NMR. Through this network, French, but also European scientists can have access to these ultra-high field spectrometers in an environment of competent technical and scientific support. In addition to their own research activity, the network's scientists also host and help other researchers carrying out studies requiring the use of the NMR spectrometers. The new 1 GHz NMR spectrometer is the centerpiece of the network.

Is there a project for an even more powerful apparatus ?
We are expecting a 1200 MHz machine by 2015-2020, though the technology needed to produce such an apparatus is still in progress and requires a strong collaboration between the researchers and the manufacturers.

Interview by Kheira Bettayeb

NMR Spectroscopy
Discovered some 60 years ago, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) can precisely analyze the composition and structure of a sample of matter at the atomic scale. The technique consists in detecting variations in the internal magnetization (spin) of specific atomic nuclei—such as that of hydrogen—placed in a strong magnetic field. In practice, the nucleus absorbs an electromagnetic radiation at a given frequency—the resonance frequency—which modifies its internal magnetization. When the radiation is withdrawn, the nucleus returns to its fundamental state. This “relaxation” causes the emission of a characteristic electromagnetic wave that can be measured and analyzed. The higher the magnetic field, the larger the resonance frequency and the more detailed the spectrum obtained. Because variations in internal magnetization depend on the immediate environment of the nucleus, the technique allows for a detailed structural analysis of the matter studied.


Notes :

1. Centre Européen de résonance magnétique nucléaire (CNRS / Ecole normale supérieure de Lyon / Université Claude Bernard Lyon-I).
2. CNRS, the Rhône-Alpes Region, the urban community of Lyon, and Claude Bernard University.
3. The Tesla is a unit that characterizes the force of a magnetic field.

Contacts :

Gilberte Chambaud,
CNRS, Paris.


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