Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), a scientific technique associated with outsized, supercooled, superconducting magnets, is one of the principal tools in the chemist's arsenal, used to study everything from alcohols to proteins to such frontiers as quantum computing. In hospitals the machinery of NMR's cousin, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), is as loud as it is big, but nevertheless a mainstay of diagnosis for a wide range of medical conditions.
It sounds like magic, but now two groups of scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California at Berkeley, one expert in chemistry and the other in atomic physics, long working together as a multidisciplinary team, have shown that chemical analysis with NMR is practical without using any magnets at all.
Dmitry Budker of Berkeley Lab's Nuclear Science Division, a professor of physics at UC Berkeley, is a protean experimenter who leads a group with interests ranging as far afield as tests of the fundamental theorems of quantum mechanics, biomagnetism in plants, and violations of basic symmetry relations in atomic nuclei. Alex Pines, of the Lab's Materials Sciences Division and UCB's Department of Chemistry, is a modern master of NMR and MRI. He guides the work of a talented, ever-changing cadre of postdocs and grad students known as the "Pinenuts" not only in doing basic research in NMR but in increasing its practical applications. Working together, the groups have extended the reach of NMR by eliminating the use of magnetic fields at different stages of NMR measurements, and have finally done away with external magnetic fields entirely.
Spinning the information
NMR and MRI depend on the fact that many atomic nuclei possess spin (not classical rotation but a quantum number) and like miniature planet Earths with north and south magnetic poles have their own dipolar magnetic fields. In c
|Contact: Paul Preuss|
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory