27 June 2016

New laser probe makes for sizzling science

Graduate research assistant Po-Hsiu Chien with the new high-temperature laser probe. Graduate research assistant Po-Hsiu Chien with the new high-temperature laser probe. Kristen Coyne

This week at the lab, we’re turning up the heat.

Really high.

It's summer at MagLab headquarters in Tallahassee, Fla., and the mercury's rising accordingly. But things are really sizzling in our Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Magnetic Resonance Imaging / Spectroscopy Facility thanks to our new high-temperature laser probe.

At the MagLab, scientists attach the samples they are studying to fancy sticks called probes that they then insert into our powerful magnets. In addition to getting specimens into the magnet, many probes have specific capabilities that allow researchers to get the data they need to answer important scientific questions about materials, energy and life.

The unique capability of the new laser probe is to heat the sample up to a blistering 850 degree Celsius (1,562 degrees Fahrenheit), thanks to a laser beam about a millimeter wide. That alone is pretty cool — errr, hot. But on top of that, it spins the sample around 5,000 times a second, which results in data with much higher resolution data.

The new probe, made by Bruker Biospin Corp., is only the third of its kind in the world, said MagLab chemist Yan-Yan Hu.

"This is the first one in the United States," Hu said. "It's going to be exciting for people to do research that they haven't been able to do before."

Most of those scientists will be doing energy-related research on high-efficiency batteries and fuel cells that operate at intermediate to very high temperatures.

The new probe, to be used with the lab's 500 MHz 89 mm NMR magnet, is a big improvement on previous high-temperature probes, which used gas to heat up the sample. Those probes also had the unwanted consequence of warming up the probe's electronics as well as the magnet.

At the MagLab, we prefer the superconducting magnets to stay pretty cold.

The science, however, is always red hot.

Text and photo by Kristen Coyne.

Last modified on 27 June 2016