14 May 2020

New NMR director takes the helm

Florida State chemist Robert Schurko is the new director of the National MagLab’s NMR/MRI Facility in Tallahassee. Florida State chemist Robert Schurko is the new director of the National MagLab’s NMR/MRI Facility in Tallahassee.

As head of nuclear magnetic resonance at the MagLab's Tallahassee headquarters, Rob Schurko hopes to expand capabilities and build new magnets.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Chemist Robert Schurko stepped into a new leadership role this week as director of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMR/MRI) Facility at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory's headquarters in Tallahassee, Florida.

Schurko is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Florida State University. He relocated to Tallahassee last year after two decades at the University of Windsor in Canada, where he built a prominent research group specializing in the study of inorganic materials, organometallic complexes and organic solids using solid state NMR, X-ray crystallography and quantum chemical calculations.

"Rob brings an internationally prominent NMR research program to the MagLab that focuses on materials science," MagLab Director Greg Boebinger said. "His research dovetails beautifully with one of the MagLab's major goals: developing techniques and instruments to allow scientists to probe more elements using NMR — what we call 'unlocking the periodic table.'

"It also dovetails beautifully with the unparalleled performance of one of our newest flagship magnets, the Series Connected Hybrid (SCH) magnet," Boebinger added.

Scientists from around the world come to the MagLab to conduct NMR experiments in the SCH, the 900 MHz Ultra-Wide Bore magnet and other unique NMR instruments. NMR allows researchers to locate specific types of atoms (hydrogen or sodium, for example) in materials or proteins, shedding light on their environment and behavior. The Tallahassee-based NMR facility is one of seven scientific facilities spread across the three sites of the MagLab, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the State of Florida.

"The MagLab has an unprecedented collection of people and equipment — there's nothing really like it elsewhere."

- Rob Schurko

Not all elements are sensitive to NMR. Schurko has been working at the frontiers of the field to develop new techniques and instruments that will give researchers access to additional important elements. Scientists are just beginning, for example, to use oxygen NMR to study biomolecules and materials in new and meaningful ways, thanks to the MagLab's SCH magnet, a relatively new instrument just hitting its stride in empowering such discoveries.

"We love chlorine-35, we love nitrogen-14," said Schurko, rattling off some of the important isotopes his group focuses on. Future targets on the periodic table include sulfur-33, rhodium-103 and ruthenium-99, among others.

"We have a whole pile of isotopes we would just love to be able to access and, for many of these, this is only going to be possible at the MagLab," Schurko said.

What makes the MagLab's NMR capabilities so unique?

"It's the high fields, it's the instrumentation and — probably most important — it's the personnel that can help you get the right experiments, and the right probes," Schurko said. "The MagLab has an unprecedented collection of people and equipment — there's nothing really like it elsewhere."

The lab's preeminence in NMR has a lot to do with the guy Schurko is replacing: outgoing facility director Tim Cross. The Robert O. Lawton Professor of Chemistry at Florida State, Cross retires from the MagLab this week after three decades of leadership. In addition to running the NMR facility in Tallahassee during most of that time, Cross played a critical role in the lab's very existence in the Florida capital. He was one of the authors of the proposal that convinced the NSF to relocate the MagLab from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to its current locations, headquartered at Florida State.

Those are big shoes to fill, Schurko acknowledged, but he's got the dreams to fill them. He is already collaborating with MagLab colleagues on plans to design and build powerful new superconducting magnets that would allow more scientists to study materials, including newly accessible isotopes, using NMR.

Story by Kristen Coyne

The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1644779) and the state of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.