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Sensitivity-enhanced benchtop NMR spectroscopy

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is powerful analytical technique with routine applications throughout the chemical and physical sciences. The magnetic resonance effect derives from a relatively weak interaction between certain atomic nuclei and external magnetic fields. While this interaction can be used to obtain detailed molecular-level information, it leads to a relatively weak, field-dependent NMR signal response. As a result, only about 3 out of every million nuclei in a sample are observed for every tesla of magnetic field that is applied. Standard laboratory NMR spectrometers feature a magnetic field in the range of 7 – 23 T that is generated by a superconducting magnet. While advantageous in terms of maximising sensitivity, the need for a large superconducting magnet limits the use of NMR spectroscopy for applications such as industrial process monitoring, where cost, size, and portability are critical. In recent years, benchtop NMR spectrometers with homogeneous magnetic fields of 1 – 2 T generated using solid-state magnets have become available. These low-cost and portable NMR spectrometers have opened up new and exciting possibilities for using NMR spectroscopy outside of the standard laboratory environment. However, there are limitations associated with performing NMR spectroscopy in weaker magnetic fields. First, the low sensitivity of NMR is exacerbated at low magnetic field. In addition, spectral dispersion reduces linearly with magnetic field, leading to complicated benchtop NMR spectra with significant peak overlap. In order to expand the range of potential applications for benchtop NMR, solutions need to be found to overcome these limitations on both sensitivity and resolution.

One route to overcoming the sensitivity limitation of low-field NMR spectroscopy is to use hyperpolarisation. Hyperpolarisation is a general term for a range of methods that boost the signal-to-noise ratio of NMR spectroscopy by essentially increasing the fraction of ‘visible’ nuclei in the experiment, often by several orders of magnitude. Signal amplification by reversible exchange (SABRE) is a method pioneered in York, where the hyperpolarisation is derived from a special form of hydrogen gas called parahydrogen. Normally parahydrogen is invisible in an NMR experiment, but once used in a chemical reaction it can increase the NMR response of target molecules by several thousand-fold. From the perspective of benchtop NMR spectroscopy, the main advantages of the parahydrogen-induced polarisation (PHIP) approach is that it is relatively cheap and easy to implement and the size of the NMR response is independent of the strength of the magnetic field used for NMR detection. Previous work in the Centre of Hyperpolarisation in Magnetic Resonance (CHyM) in York has demonstrated the feasibility of combining SABRE hyperpolarisation and benchtop NMR to improve sensitivity.[1] The goal of this project will be to explore how the increased sensitivity provided by the hyperpolarisation can be exploited to optimise the molecular level information available using benchtop (1 – 2 T) and ultra-low field (< 50 mT) NMR spectrometers.

This project will involve the design and implementation of 1D and 2D NMR experiments. It will focus of the development of novel NMR pulse sequences and data analysis strategies as well as instrumentation development, where appropriate.

All research students follow our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills. All research students take the core training package which provides both a grounding in the skills required for their research, and transferable skills to enhance employability opportunities following graduation.

Project-specific training will be provided in the design and implementation of 1D and 2D NMR experiments on a range of platforms (low-field and high-field NMR spectrometers), NMR theory, and advanced data analysis. The project will be carried out within the broader context of the Centre for Hyperpolarisation in Magnetic Resonance (CHyM). Through participation in group meetings and interactions with the interdisciplinary team in CHyM, the student will be exposed to the full range of expertise within the centre in areas including NMR spectroscopy, hyperpolarisation, MR theory, photochemistry, catalysis and kinetics. The ability of the student to communicate and critically discuss results will be developed through presentations at group meetings, participation in conferences and the preparation of reports and scientific manuscripts.

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel.

Funding Notes

This project is open to students who can fund their own studies or who have been awarded a scholarship separate from this project. The Chemistry Department at York is pleased to offer Wild Fund Scholarships to those from countries outside the UK. Wild Fund Scholarships offer up to full tuition fees for those from countries from outside the European Union. EU students may also be offered £6,000 per year towards living costs. For further information see: View Website


[1] Richardson et al. Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (2018) in press; Richardson et al. Analyst 143 (2018) 641-650.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of York in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 47.06

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