Equipment upgrade success for the departmental NMR facility
Images of the first commercial 600 MHz magnet which resides in the department. Installed in 1987, it originally had a Bruker AM console, and is now equipped with a home- built console and triple-resonance probe
NMR capability on the science area site has been boosted by a recent substantial award from the Wellcome Trust to upgrade one of the machines based in the Biochemistry Department.
The funds will allow the purchase of a cryo-probe for one of the 600 MHz machines, part of the suite of 6 instruments located in the Rex Richards building.
The successful bid was put together by a group of applicants from the department - Drs Christina Redfield, Jason Schnell, John Vakonakis, and Professor Iain Campbell - in collaboration with more than 10 others from within and outside the department. As well as the award from the Wellcome Trust, support from the John Fell Fund and the E P A Cephalosporin Fund will help to secure the equipment.
As Dr Vakonakis explains, the cryo-probe will make experiments possible that cannot currently be done: 'Because the cryo-probe gives you increased signal to noise, you will have a corresponding decrease in experiment time necessary for NMR. So, where you couldn't do an experiment before if the sample was time-sensitive, now you can do it because it will take a fraction of the time.'
The probe will enable researchers to look at these challenging systems, adds Dr Schnell. 'In general, it's samples that fall apart too quickly before we can collect the data or where we're limited in the amount of material we can obtain.'
The group chose specifically to upgrade the mid-range machine as this will give the facility the greatest boost. 'We have a 950 MHz machine, one of the highest field spectrometers in the world,' explains Dr Redfield. 'But the gains you get with a cryo-probe are best at lower field – and most noticeable at 500 or 600 MHz.'
Given the wide usage of the facility across the University, this broadening of capabilities will be very important. 'The current high sensitivity probe is always booked so there's a very big demand for this kind of instrumentation,' says Dr Schnell. Most of the protein NMR in the University is done at the Biochemistry facility, with between 20-30 people actively doing experiments.
Researchers also benefit from the flexibility of the facility, being able to analyse samples across a range of fields, and the upgrade will enhance this. 'We will have the sensitivity of high field but with all the benefits you have at low field,' comments Dr Schnell.
Dr Redfield says that the new equipment will put the facility, one of the biggest in the UK, in a strong position. It is part of the facility's continual development since its establishment around 40 years ago. Magnets have been purchased directly from Oxford Instruments, and the machine being upgraded is the first commercial 600 MHz machine which has been in place since 1987.