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Cutting-edge NMR technology headed for Ames Lab

A manufacturer’s image of the new DNP NMR equipment that’s headed to Ames.


Ames Laboratory will take a giant step forward in world-class solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance capabilities with its new equipment acquisition, a Dynamic Nuclear Polarization-NMR spectrometer. The instrument will be the first of its kind to be focused on materials and materials chemistry in the United States.

The acquisition was announced in August, and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Using NMR technology, researchers are able to discover physical, chemical, electronic, and structural information about materials, based on the way atomic nuclei in the sample absorb electromagnetic radiation in a strong magnetic field. NMR technology is similar to that used for magnetic resonance imaging in medicine.

Dynamic Nuclear Polarization (DNP)-NMR uses microwaves to polarize electrons, and then transfer that polarization from the electrons to the nuclei of the sample being analyzed.

ImageThe concept of DNP-NMR was first theorized and demonstrated in the 1950s at the University of Illinois, but it took decades of progress in microwave and NMR technology, mainly at MIT, to make a commercially produced instrument possible, only in the last three years.

“It’s essentially a combination of two techniques, electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy and NMR, which yields an amazing increase in sensitivity,” says Cynthia Jenks, assistant director for scientific planning at Ames Laboratory and director of the Lab’s Chemical and Biological Sciences division. “In the types of materials we study, we’ve been able to demonstrate an enhancement of anywhere from eight to 30 times in signal sensitivity. Results that used to take a week to obtain will now take hours or minutes.”

The increased capabilities of the DNP-NMR instrument will be in the hands of the Lab’s six world-leading solid-state NMR scientists, and opens up possibilities for research that didn’t previously exist.

“Needless to say, we are all very pleased with this acquisition,” says Marek Pruski, the principal investigator of the research team. “The Ames Laboratory has an elite group of scientists specializing in the development and applications of solid-state NMR techniques. During the last two years we have conducted exploratory studies to demonstrate the critical importance of DNP-NMR to our materials chemistry research, using the existing instrument in Lausanne, Switzerland, and at the Bruker facility in Billerica, Massachusetts. All these factors, and the critical support from the Ames Laboratory leadership made this outcome possible.”

The instrument will be installed next summer in Spedding Hall.

Laboratory scientists expect the instrument to greatly expand and accelerate the progress of research efforts in many areas, including catalysis, nanocomposites, fuel cell membrane materials, soil organic matter, carbon electrode materials, plant cell walls, hydrogen storage materials, and other complex materials.

“Our acquisition of this instrument is creating a buzz in the scientific community. Already we are receiving inquiries about potential collaborations from researchers worldwide. This adds to the unique set of material characterization capabilities available at the Ames Laboratory,” says Cynthia Jenks.

~ by Laura Millsaps


Ames Lab has a reputation for leadership in NMR
technology, thanks to researchers Klaus Schmidt-
Rohr (left), Marek Pruski (center) who is heavily
involved in the DNP NMR project, and Yuji Furu-
kawa (right).