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Analytical Chemistry

Shrinking The NMR Spectrometer

Miniaturization effort replaces the standard electronic components of an NMR with a millimeter-sized chip

by Mitch Jacoby
August 12, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 32

Credit: Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
This semiconducting chip contains the electronics for a mini NMR.
The key electronic circuitry needed to run advanced NMR experiments  have been shrunk to fit on the 4 square mm silicon chip seen in this photo.
Credit: Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
This semiconducting chip contains the electronics for a mini NMR.

By miniaturizing the electronic circuitry that drives NMR spectroscopy, Harvard University researchers have taken a step toward further developing low-cost portable NMR instruments (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2014, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1402015111). The advance may enable scientists in the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries to more easily use NMR analysis for quality control and chemical reaction monitoring in manufacturing. It may also facilitate use of NMR in conjunction with other field-deployable analytical methods. Instrument innovators have been working to miniaturize NMR spectrometers for small- to medium-sized molecule analysis. That effort has led to replacement of large superconducting magnets with newly designed permanent magnets that are smaller yet remain powerful. The electronics needed for advanced NMR methods, however, have remained relatively bulky. That prompted a team led by Harvard’s Dongwan Ha and Donhee Ham to use semiconductor fabrication methods to shrink the radio-frequency transmitter and receiver and other components critical for running advanced NMR techniques. The result is an integrated-circuit chip measuring just 4 mm2 that the team paired with a small magnet in a prototype spectrometer. The team says it has filed for a patent and is exploring avenues for commercialization.


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