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Even oxygen to succumb to new probe that puts UK universities back on the world magnetic map

 Dr Steven Brown with current NMR euipment

UK researchers will soon have access to a new tool that generates a magnetic field 400000 times stronger than the earth’s own field, can grasp and uncover the structure of oxygen based compounds, and which puts the UK back on the world’s high field magnetic map for this research technique. The new 20 Tesla 850 MHz Solid-State NMR facility will be operated by a consortium of UK universities led by the University of Warwick.

The arrangement and motion of molecules and ions determine most of the properties of a material, or the function of biomolecules. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) gives researchers the ability to gain a detailed understanding of the structure and motion of molecules which will help in the creation of new materials for hydrogen storage and radioactive waste encapsulation, new drugs, and even provide insights into the amyloid plaques associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's.

While UK scientists have reasonable access to medium strength (up to 600 MHz) solid-state NMR spectrometers, the UK has fallen behind internationally in the access its researchers have to high field solid-state NMR equipment. This £4 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is to a consortium of universities led by University of Warwick puts the UK firmly back on the high field NMR map creating a powerful 20 Tesla 850 MHz Solid State NMR facility at Warwick which will open in 2009. The intense strength of the device is matched by only a handful of other solid-state NMR instruments world wide.

This high powered NMR will even open up oxygen to close examination. Oxygen is a key constituent of most organic and inorganic compounds but it is normally difficult to study by NMR since the only NMR-active isotope of Oxygen is the "quadrupolar nucleus 17O". This isotope of oxygen is very difficult to use as it forms only 0.037 % of all naturally available oxygen. Nearly all NMR studies to date have required the expensive and difficult introduction of much more of the rare 17O into the samples but the expectation is that the 20 Tesla instrument will allow the study of oxygen compounds without the need for such preparation.

High magnetic fields are especially important for the study of many other "quadrupolar isotopes" (which means they have a non-spherical distribution of electric charge.) It will also be crucial to the study of many important so-called low-gamma nuclei, e.g., 25Mg (an isotope of Magnesium), 33S (an isotope of Sulphur), 39K (an isotope of Potassium), 43Ca (an isotope of Calcium), 49Ti (an isotope of Titanium).

The facility will be based at the University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, but will be managed by a consortium of Universities including: Warwick, Cambridge, Durham, Glasgow, Nottingham and St Andrews. It will be available to all UK solid-state NMR researchers. It will be housed in the University’s new Magnetic Resonance centre working alongside other NMR research groups in University’s Physics and Chemistry departments which already operate a suite of 7 medium powered solid-state NMR instruments (200 to 600 MHz), and 2 "solution-state" (600, 700 MHz) NMRs. This new EPSRC grant follows on from a recent £4M Basic Technology grant to the Warwick solid-state NMR and EPR groups to develop Dynamic Nuclear Polarisation.

The Principal Investigator on the project Dr Steven Brown from the University of Warwick said:

"This is a fantastic investment in UK solid-state NMR research by EPSRC. It has been inspiring to see the whole UK solid-state NMR research community work together to achieve this result. Britain’s world class NMR researchers will now have access to world class equipment."

Notes for editors:

1. Ninety per cent of the funding comes from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and ten per cent from The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

2. The full research team awarded the grant are led by Principal Investigator Dr. Steven P. Brown, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick along with University of Warwick Professors Mark Smith & Ray Dupree. The co-applicants are from Cambridge (Dr Melinda Duer), Durham (Professor Robin Harris), Glasgow (Professor Stephen Wimperis), Nottingham (Dr Jeremy Titman), and St Andrews (Dr Sharon Ashbrook). The initiative has also had letters of support from 21 other UK solid-state NMR spectroscopists from 16 other UK universities, as well as from industrial companies such as Astra Zeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson Matthey, Nexia, and Sanofi Avensis.

For further information please contact:

Dr Steven Brown, Department of Physics
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76574359
email: S.P.Brown@warwick.ac.uk

Peter Dunn, Press and Media Relations Manager, Communications Office, University of Warwick,
024 76 523708 email: p.j.dunn@warwick.ac.uk

PR85 PJD 26th October 2007