High-sensitivity multinuclear 600 MHz NMR for synthesis, catalysis and functional materials

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Chemistry


The design, synthesis and development of new materials and molecules sits at the core of numerous scientific advances in energy storage, agriculture, health and medicine, and environmentally sustainable plastics. In all these cases a fundamental requirement is to be able to understand and accurately define the structure of these molecules- one of the most important analytical techniques to achieve this Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy.
Despite its ability to provide exquisite insights into molecular structures, NMR is hampered by its rather poor detection sensitivity, meaning relatively large quantities of very precious samples are required for analysis, although such quantities are not always available. It is also the case that due to the very high information content provided by NMR, the data it provides can be complex and challenging to interpret. Technological advances can assist in both these areas and so aid in the advancement of molecular design. The sensitivity of the detection probes can be improved significantly by cooling these and their associated preamplifiers to very low temperatures (~25 and 85 Kelvin respectively) with liquid helium, as in cryogenic probes or "cryoprobes". These enable chemists and materials scientists to work with far smaller quantities and collect valuable data more rapidly and efficiently. The use of more powerful magnetic fields also improves sensitivity and leads to greater signal dispersion of the detected signals, allowing the study of more complex and structurally diverse molecules.
The cutting-edge NMR spectrometer equipped with a high-sensitivity cryoprobe will support multiple world-leading research groups across chemistry, materials science, and physics that rely on an understanding of molecular structures, enabling these researchers to remain internationally competitive. It will replace an existing NMR instrument that is fifteen years old and will provide scientists employing this technique with greater capabilities, better performance, increased efficiency and improved reliability. This in turn will enable discoveries relevant to new therapeutics and pharmaceuticals (including antibiotics) for better healthcare, advanced agrochemicals for food productivity, battery technologies for energy storage, sustainable polymers and plastics, and more efficient methods for future manufacturing.

Planned Impact

The primary impact of the instrument will be enabling the research of multiple academic groups (and their collaborators in academia and industry) that are dependent on access to cutting-edge NMR instrumentation for the characterisation of novel synthetic materials, as captured in Academic Beneficiaries. By facilitating these research programmes, the instrument will have far wider impact on areas addressing major societal issues concerning sustainability, energy, healthcare and medicine and will contribute to the defined EPSRC Delivery Objectives for a Healthy, Productive and Resilient Nation.
The NMR instrument will play a key role in supporting research programs operating as part of two Departmental Centres for Doctoral Training in Synthesis for Biology and Medicine and Inorganic Chemistry for Future Manufacturing which are built around the themes of synthesis, catalysis and advanced materials. These graduate training programmes operate in close association with > 20 industrial partners, including major pharmaceutical, biotech, agrochemical, petrochemical, energy, and fine chemical companies. These stakeholders have access to, and influence the direction of, latest developments in research within these centres, so benefitting directly (Healthy Nation, Productive Nation). Further examples of collaboration that impact on industry include the UCB-Oxford Late Stage Functionalisation Project which seeks to develop synthetic routes to enable more efficient manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, and the SCG-Oxford Centre of Excellence in Chemistry that develops materials for applications in renewable plastics, packaging and the automotive industry (the 2019 winner of the prestigious Industry-Academia Collaboration Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry for "creating a unique and long-standing collaboration bringing benefits to chemical science").
NMR spectroscopy is the primary enabling analytical technique for defining novel chemical structures. The provision of state-of-the-art equipment feeds directly into the training of graduate students and postgraduate researchers by providing access to the latest developments in spectroscopic analysis, equipping them with essential skills for transfer into the industrial sector or academia. Companies in turn benefit from the talent pipeline of highly trained individuals (Resilient Nation).
The new instrument will sustain and enhance the technical environment in Oxford that allows for the development of new synthetic procedures and materials in the facilitated research programmes. These will contribute to the nation's health by improving the methodology to create new medicines, developing new therapeutics such as antimicrobials, designing drug delivery systems and by developing chemical and imaging probes to better explore and understand the processes of cellular chemistry and of disease (Healthy Nation). The development of new materials such as sustainable polymers and renewable plastics will contribute to global future sustainability, and the creation of novel methods for manufacturing high-value chemicals from readily available materials (such as carbon-dioxide and ammonia) will contribute to sustainable future manufacturing to the long-term benefit of wider society (Productive Nation, Resilient Nation).


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Description This grant funded a single analytical instrument for chemical structure characterisation. The instrument was installed in April-May 2021 under COVID restrictions and came into use supporting chemical research in the department in May 2021. It has been operating successfully since that time and, despite lower levels of research activity and reduced laboratory occupancy imposed by COVID restrictions throughout most of 2021, the instrument has still recorded ~ 8,800 experiments in the period May-December 2021. This has supported directly the research activities of 30 academic research groups to date. As the instrument has been operating for less than one year, it is too early to define research outputs (especially journal publications) supported by this equipment; this will become apparent throughout the operational lifetime of this instrument (> 10 years) which runs well beyond the duration of the funding research grant.
Exploitation Route The funded instrument will serve the needs of the research community for at least another 10 years- as such the outcome and impact of this funding will emerge throughout this time period as chemical science projects that are reliant upon this analytical capability are published, new project grants secured from initial data collected with this instrument, and new projects supported that are yet to be established.
Sectors Chemicals,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology