Combining tremendous strength with a high-quality field, the MagLab’s newest instrument promises big advances in interdisciplinary research.

This week at the lab, a prosaic-looking box is being prepared to assume a very exciting job this summer as a key component to a scientific time machine.

Although researchers won't be able to use the approximately 4-foot-high box to travel to other eras, they will use it to get a tantalizing glimpse of science in the future.

Delivered to the lab last week from Switzerland, the "box" is in fact a one-of-a-kind console specifically designed and built by Bruker Corp. for a new, one-of-a-kind instrument, the MagLab's 36 tesla series connected hybrid (SCH) magnet. Due to come online in a few months, the SCH will offer the highest magnetic fields in the world for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) research. With an operating frequency of 1.5 gigahertz, it will be one and a half times stronger than any other NMR magnet, said Ilya Litvak, who is coordinating the NMR instrumentation for the new magnet.

The MagLab already has numerous magnets for NMR, used to study the structure of molecules by interacting with the nuclei of atoms such as hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon. What's special about the new magnet is that, operating at 1.5 gigahertz, it will allow scientists to efficiently target so-called "low-gamma" nuclei such as oxygen, which are too hard to see at conventional NMR field strengths, opening up a whole new frontier for scientific exploration.

"In the two areas where structure is important, biological research and materials, you have a lot of oxygen," said Litvak. "Currently, scientists cannot use oxygen in NMR efficiently."

A Bruker engineer is testing the new console with another magnet while construction on the SCH magnet is completed. In NMR experiments, the console receives and records the signals sent to it by the probe, which holds the sample inside the magnet.


Text by Kristen Coyne, photo by Stephen Bilenky.