800 MHz NMR spectrometer was inaugurated ceremoniously

Author: University Lecturer Elina Sievänen

Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, most commonly known as NMR spectroscopy, is a research technique exploiting magnetic properties of nuclei. The sample is put in an external magnetic field, where its nuclei absorb and re-emit electromagnetic radiation. NMR spectroscopy can provide detailed information about the structure, dynamics, reaction state, and chemical environment of molecules. The intramolecular magnetic field around an atom in a molecule changes the resonance frequency, thus giving access to details of the electronic structure of a molecule.

In addition to investigating the structures of molecules, NMR can be used for studying diffusion without tracers or artificial concentration gradients. The most well-known application of nuclear magnetic resonance is undoubtedly magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, which is widely used in medicine. While X-ray images illustrate hard materials, such as bones, magnetic resonance imaging shows the soft tissue – with MRI cross-sections of, for example, patient’s brains can be pictured without harming them.

On 15th of June 2016 the nenmr-spektrometriw 800 MHz NMR spectrometer of Nanoscience Center of University of Jyväskylä was ceremoniously inaugurated by Rector Matti Manninen. Festivities started by a lecture given by Dr. Dušan Uhrín from University of Edinburgh. In his lecture he covered examples of the characterisation of complex mixtures relevant to Scotland (and Finland), exemplifying the power of 800 MHz NMR spectroscopy. At the end of the lecture the audience, composing of guests of honor, personnel of the Faculty, and participants of the 38th Finnish NMR Symposium that had just ended in Spa Hotel Peurunka, got to examine the sample at first hand. The sample came from the Southern Hebridean Isle of Jura off the west coast of Scotland. Since the islanders were a superstitious lot in the past, accurate information on how to pour the samples was given to the waitress (me). After careful investigation the audience concluded that the sample was crafted from a selection of the finest aged Jura single malt whiskies. Spices, honey, pine and peat were carefully combined with a hint of smoke to make a subtly sweet, yet smoky single malt.

With hints of the sample still lingering on the tongues, representative of the vendor, Dr. Daniel Mathieu, introduced the audience to the ropes of the instrument and the Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Science, Henrik Kunttu, gave a speech describing the project of purchasing the spectrometer from the very beginning to date. He, for example, reminisced the reactions of Professor (now emeritus) Erkki Kolehmainen – the former professor in NMR spectroscopy – on suggestions of purchasing a very-high-field NMR spectrometer: At first, Professor Kolehmainen didn’t seem to get too excited about the idea, but when a professorship on macromolecular NMR spectroscopy was suggested to be announced and Dr. Perttu Permi from Biocenter Finland to be invited to the position, also Kolehmainen started to warm to the idea. Soon after that things started to proceed at speed, and the rest is history.

After the speeches the participants moved downstairs to the NMR laboratory, where an instrument resembling a space shuttle rose up to the sealing. The Head of the Nanoscience Center, Professor Hannu Häkkinen, gave the inaugural speech in front of the impressive machinery, after which Rector Matti Manninen got to officially inaugurate the spectrometer by starting the sample case that transported an NMR sample into the 18.8 T magnet.

The current Bruker Avance III HD 800 NMR spectrometer is unique in Finland - in addition to Nanoscience Center of University of Jyväskylä there is just one other NMR spectrometer operating at a 1H frequency of  800 MHz in Finland. The spectrometer at Nanoscience Center represents a new generation very-high-field spectrometer in that the consumption of liquid helium needed to maintain the magnetic field is extremely low. The equipmentation of the spectrometer is top-quality; it has for example a helium-cooled probehead that yields sensitivity four times better when compared to a normal probehead. This means that the data can be obtained 16 times faster, which accomplishes considerable savings in measurement times. In addition to that the instrument is equipped with two digital receivers, which enables measurement of two nuclei simultaneously.

The new NMR spectrometer will mainly be used for investigating relationships between the structure and function of proteins. Intrinsically disordered proteins are especially well-suited to be studied by the very-high-field spectrometer. These disordered proteins represent a “dark side” of the proteins – there’s quite a little information about them, but recent reports have proven their physiological importance. Disordered proteins are often related with neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimers’s diseases, as well as with cancer, and cardiac or metabolic disorders.