Public Release: 

Benchtop NMR breakthrough

Norwich BioScience Institutes


IMAGE: This image shows Pulsar benchtop NMR. view more

Credit: Oxford Instruments

In a world first, scientists from the Institute of Food Research (IFR) on the Norwich Research Park have been test-driving a prototype instrument that promises to revolutionise access to a potent laboratory analysis technique called NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance).

The instrument was developed by Oxford Instruments, an award winning producer of scientific measuring equipment, who breathed new life into an existing technology using innovative designs and advanced electronics. The result is an NMR spectrometer called Pulsar.

Existing NMR spectrometers are hugely expensive, in part because they rely on special cooling, special housing and highly trained experts to run them. Pulsar, on the other hand, is a benchtop system based on permanent rather than superconducting magnets that is designed to work in an ordinary science lab and to be run by non-specialists.

Building on a long track record of scientific data analysis, the IFR team, led by Dr Kate Kemsley, are devising mathematical recipes and writing new computer software that will help to collect and analyse data from Pulsar automatically, without the need for experts to analyse the data a piece at a time. Making this partnership possible is funding from the Technology Strategy Board, who are sponsored by the Department of Innovation and Skills to stimulate technology-enabled innovation in the areas which offer the greatest scope for boosting UK growth and productivity.

NMR is a powerful technique used to analyse a material's molecular structure and composition. It works rather like hitting a bell with a hammer, listening to the chime of the bell and deducing information about the bell and its environment from the chime. In NMR the 'hammer' is a pulse of radiofrequency waves, applied to a sample held in a powerful magnetic field, and the 'chime' is a radiofrequency ringing given off as atoms within the sample settle back to their original state. The output is a complicated signal containing information about the different atoms and their relative arrangement in the sample. The team at IFR, which is strategically funded by BBSRC, plans to use the instrument and their new algorithms to automatically test and explore the composition of a number of common foods.

IFR has been trialling the instrument's capabilities by assessing how well it can differentiate between hazelnut oil and extra virgin olive oil, two food oils that are very difficult to tell apart by other methods. The flexibility of the NMR technology means that many other similar applications can also be developed in the areas of quality control, authentication and adulteration.

Pulsar was officially launched by Oxford Instruments on Thursday 2nd May, offering stunning NMR capability to smaller labs and university teaching centres. Students will benefit from access to direct hands-on experience of NMR, both collecting and analysing their own data. Quality Control labs, where analysis is usually carried out by technicians lacking NMR expertise, will now be able to add the unique capabilities of NMR to their range of analysis techniques. The ease of use and data capture makes high-throughput NMR a reality, ideal for industrial settings where large numbers of samples are processed and the results needed quickly to feedback into control processes.


Notes to editors:

About the Institute of Food Research

The mission of the Institute of Food Research (IFR),, is to undertake international quality scientific research relevant to food and human health and to work in partnership with others to provide underpinning science for consumers, policy makers, the food industry and academia. It is a company limited by guarantee, with charitable status.

IFR is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). IFR received a total of £14.4M investment from BBSRC in 2011-12.

The institutes deliver innovative, world class bioscience research and training, leading to wealth and job creation, generating high returns for the UK economy. They have strong links with business, industry and the wider community, and support policy development

The Institutes' research underpins key sectors of the UK economy such as agriculture, bioenergy, biotechnology, food and drink and pharmaceuticals. In addition, the Institute maintains unique research facilities of national importance.

About Oxford Instruments

Oxford Instruments designs, supplies and supports high-technology tools and systems with a focus on research and industrial applications. It provides solutions needed to advance fundamental physics research and its transfer into commercial nanotechnology applications. Innovation has been the driving force behind Oxford Instruments' growth and success for over 50 years, and its strategy is to effect the successful commercialisation of these ideas by bringing them to market in a timely and customer-focused fashion. The first technology business to be spun out from Oxford University over fifty years ago, Oxford Instruments is now a global company with over 1900 staff worldwide and is listed on the FTSE250 index of the London Stock Exchange (OXIG). Its objective is to be the leading provider of new generation tools and systems for the research and industrial sectors.

This involves the combination of core technologies in areas such as low temperature, high magnetic field and ultra-high vacuum environments, Nuclear and Electron Magnetic Resonance, X-ray, electron and optical based metrology, and advanced growth, deposition and etching.

Oxford Instruments aims to pursue responsible development and deeper understanding of our world through science and technology. Its products, expertise, and ideas address global issues such as energy, environment, security and health.

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