Federal grant to fund new tools for biology research in high magnetic fields

This instrument is located at the MagLab's AMRIS Facility at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

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.

This week at the lab, engineers are fine-tuning a new magnet that will offer scientists a novel way to do nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

The magnet, along with a new cabinet and console, comprise the lab’s new 600 MHz spectrometer, which will be used for a new measurement technique with a very long name: magic angle spinning dynamic nuclear polarization. MAS DNP, as it is more reasonably called, gives scientists deciphering the structure of molecules a clearer picture of what they are looking at.

The 2,000-pound Bruker superconducting magnet was installed earlier this month, connected to cryogen and a power supplies, and ramped up to full field, 14.1 teslas. A special feature of the instrument is a second, small, "sweepable" magnet coil that allows scientists to fine-tune the field and frequency of the instrument.

In NMR spectroscopy, scientists put the material they are studying – let’s say a protein – inside the magnet, then direct radio waves of a specific frequency at it. These in turn send back signals identifying certain atoms, thus helping scientists piece together the sample’s structure. In the MAS DNP technique, a solvent containing free radicals is added to the sample. When irradiated with microwaves, the result is much stronger NMR signals and thus a clearer idea of the material’s structure.

This new setup, located in the MagLab’s Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Magnetic Resonance Imaging / Spectroscopy Facility, is among just a few in the world and the only one open to outside scientists, said Thierry Dubroca, a MagLab physicist who has helped develop the capability. The new system will be available to scientists in early 2016. Scientists interested in using MAS DNP should contact Thierry Dubroca, Zhehong Gan, Ivan Hung, Joanna Long.

Video by Stephen Bilenky / Text by Kristen Coyne

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Sodium MRI Software

Software developed at the MagLab is available free to scientists for sodium MRI concentration mapping (M.L. Truong, M.G. Harrington, V.D. Schepkin, E.Y. Chekmenev "Sodium 3D Concentration Mapping (COMA 3D) using 23Na and proton MRI", Journal of Magnetic Resonance 2014, (accepted for publication).

List of software and Tutorial

This instrument is located at the MagLab's AMRIS Facility at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

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