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Nuclear magnetic resonance

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is a physical phenomenon in which nuclei in a magnetic field absorb and re-emit electromagnetic radiation. This energy is at a specific resonance frequency which depends on the strength of the magnetic field and the magnetic properties of the isotope of the atoms; in practical applications, the frequency is similar to VHF and UHF television broadcasts (60–1000 MHz). NMR allows the observation of specific quantum mechanical magnetic properties of the atomic nucleus. Many scientific techniques exploit NMR phenomena to study molecular physics, crystals, and non-crystalline materials through nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. NMR is also routinely used in advanced medical imaging techniques, such as in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). All isotopes that contain an odd number of protons and/or neutrons (see Isotope) have an intrinsic magnetic moment and angular momentum, in other words a nonzero spin, while all nuclides with even numbers of both have a total spin of zero. The most commonly studied nuclei are and , although nuclei from isotopes of many other elements (e.g. , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) have been studied by high-field NMR spectroscopy as well. A key feature of NMR is that the resonance frequency of a particular substance is directly proportional to the strength of the applied magnetic field. It is this feature that is exploited in imaging techniques; if a sample is placed in a non-uniform magnetic field then the resonance frequencies of the sample's nuclei depend on where in the field they are located. Since the resolution of the imaging technique depends on the magnitude of magnetic field gradient, many efforts are made to develop increased field strength, often using superconductors. The effectiveness of NMR can also be improved using hyperpolarization, and/or using two-dimensional, three-dimensional and higher-dimensional multi-frequency techniques. The principle of NMR usually involves two sequential steps:
  • The alignment (polarization) of the magnetic nuclear spins in an applied, constant magnetic field B0.
  • The perturbation of this alignment of the nuclear spins by employing an electro-magnetic, usually radio frequency (RF) pulse. The required perturbing frequency is dependent upon the static magnetic field (H0) and the nuclei of observation.
The two fields are usually chosen to be perpendicular to each other as this maximizes the NMR signal strength. The resulting response by the total magnetization (M) of the nuclear spins is the phenomenon that is exploited in NMR spectroscopy and magnetic resonance imaging. Both use intense applied magnetic fields (H0) in order to achieve dispersion and very high stability to deliver spectral resolution, the details of which are described by chemical shifts, the Zeeman effect, and Knight shifts (in metals). NMR phenomena are also utilized in low-field NMR, NMR spectroscopy and MRI in the Earth's magnetic field (referred to as Earth's field NMR), and in several types of magnetometers.


Nuclear magnetic resonance was first described and measured in molecular beams by Isidor Rabi in 1938, In 2002 Kurt Wüthrich shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (with John Bennett Fenn and Koichi Tanaka) for his work with protein FT NMR in solution.

Solid-state NMR spectroscopy

This technique complements X-ray crystallography in that it is frequently applicable to molecules in a liquid or liquid crystal phase, whereas crystallography, as the name implies, is performed on molecules in a solid phase. Though nuclear magnetic resonance is used to study solids, extensive atomic-level molecular structural detail is especially challenging to obtain in the solid state. There is little signal averaging by thermal motion in the solid state, where most molecules can only undergo restricted vibrations and rotations at room temperature, each in a slightly different electronic environment, therefore exhibiting a different NMR absorption peak. Such a variation in the electronic environment of the resonating nuclei results in a blurring of the observed spectra—which is often only a broad Gaussian band for non-quadrupolar spins in a solid- thus making the interpretation of such " dipolar" and " chemical shift anisotropy" (CSA) broadened spectra either very difficult or impossible. Professor Raymond Andrew at the University of Nottingham in the UK pioneered the development of high-resolution solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance. He was the first to report the introduction of the MAS (magic angle sample spinning; MASS) technique that allowed him to achieve spectral resolution in solids sufficient to distinguish between chemical groups with either different chemical shifts or distinct Knight shifts. In MASS, the sample is spun at several kilohertz around an axis that makes the so-called magic angle θm (which is ~54.74°, where }}) with respect to the direction of the static magnetic field B0; as a result of such magic angle sample spinning, the chemical shift anisotropy bands are averaged to their corresponding average (isotropic) chemical shift values. The above expression involving cos2 θm has its origin in a calculation that predicts the magnetic dipolar interaction effects to cancel out for the specific value of θm called the magic angle. One notes that correct alignment of the sample rotation axis as close as possible to θm is essential for cancelling out the dipolar interactions whose strength for angles sufficiently far from θm is usually greater than ~10 kHz for C–H bonds in solids, for example, and it is thus greater than their CSA values. There are different angles for the sample spinning relative to the applied field for the averaging of quadrupole interactions and paramagnetic interactions, correspondingly ~30.6° and ~70.1°. A concept developed by Sven Hartmann and Erwin Hahn was utilized in transferring magnetization from protons to less sensitive nuclei (popularly known as cross-polarization) by M.G. Gibby, Alex Pines and John S. Waugh. Then, Jake Schaefer and Ed Stejskal demonstrated also the powerful use of cross-polarization under MASS conditions (CP-MAS) which is now routinely employed to measure high resolution spectra of low-abundance and low-sensitivity nuclei, namely carbon-13, in solids.


Because the intensity of nuclear magnetic resonance signals and, hence, the sensitivity of the technique depends on the strength of the magnetic field the technique has also advanced over the decades with the development of more powerful magnets. Advances made in audio-visual technology have also improved the signal-generation and processing capabilities of newer instruments. As noted above, the sensitivity of nuclear magnetic resonance signals is also dependent on the presence of a magnetically susceptible nuclide and, therefore, either on the natural abundance of such nuclides or on the ability of the experimentalist to artificially enrich the molecules, under study, with such nuclides. The most abundant naturally occurring isotopes of hydrogen and phosphorus (for example) are both magnetically susceptible and readily useful for nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. In contrast, carbon and nitrogen have useful isotopes but which occur only in very low natural abundance. Other limitations on sensitivity arise from the quantum-mechanical nature of the phenomenon. For quantum states separated by energy equivalent to radio frequencies, thermal energy from the environment causes the populations of the states to be close to equal. Since incoming radiation is equally likely to cause stimulated emission (a transition from the upper to the lower state) as absorption, the NMR effect depends on an excess of nuclei in the lower states. Several factors can reduce sensitivity, including:
  • Increasing temperature, which evens out the population of states. Conversely, low temperature NMR can sometimes yield better results than room-temperature NMR, providing the sample remains liquid.
  • Saturation of the sample with energy applied at the resonant radiofrequency. This manifests in both CW and pulsed NMR; in the first case (CW) this happens by using too much continuous power that keeps the upper spin levels completely populated; in the second case (pulsed), each pulse (that is at least a 90° pulse) leaves the sample saturated, and four to five times the (longitudinal) relaxation time (5T1) must pass before the next pulse or pulse sequence can be applied. For single pulse experiments, shorter RF pulses that tip the magnetization by less than 90° can be used, which loses some intensity of the signal, but allows for shorter recycle delays. The optimum there is called an Ernst angle, after the Nobel laureate. Especially in solid state NMR, or in samples with very few nuclei with spins greater than zero, (diamond with the natural 1% of carbon-13 is especially troublesome here) the longitudinal relaxation times can be on the range of hours, while for proton-NMR they are more on the range of one second.
  • Non-magnetic effects, such as electric- quadrupole coupling of spin-1 and spin- nuclei with their local environment, which broaden and weaken absorption peaks. , an abundant spin-1 nucleus, is difficult to study for this reason. High resolution NMR instead probes molecules using the rarer isotope, which has spin-.


Many isotopes of chemical elements can be used for NMR analysis. Multinuclear NMR Commonly used nuclei:
  • , the most commonly used spin- nucleus in NMR investigation, has been studied using many forms of NMR. Hydrogen is highly abundant, especially in biological systems. It is the nucleus most sensitive to NMR signal (apart from which is not commonly used due to its instability and radioactivity). Proton NMR produces narrow chemical shift with sharp signals. Fast acquisition of quantitative results (peak integrals in stoichiometric ratio) is possible due to short relaxation time. The signal has been the sole diagnostic nucleus used for clinical magnetic resonance imaging.
  • , a spin 1 nucleus commonly utilized as signal-free medium in the form of during proton NMR, to avoid signal interference from hydrogen-containing solvents in measurement of solutes. Also used in determining the behavior of lipids in lipid membranes and other solids or liquid crystals as it is a relatively non-perturbing label which can selectively replace . Alternatively, can be detected in media specially labeled with . Deuterium resonance is commonly used in high-resolution NMR spectroscopy to monitor drifts in the magnetic field strength (lock) and to improve the homogeneity of the external magnetic field.
  • , is very sensitive to NMR. There is a very low percentage in natural helium, and subsequently has to be purified from . It is used mainly in studies of endohedral fullerenes, where its chemical inertness is beneficial to ascertaining the structure of the entrapping fullerene.
  • , more sensitive than , yields sharper signals. Quartz tubes must be used as borosilicate glass interferes with measurement.
  • spin-, is widely used, despite its relative paucity in naturally occurring carbon (approximately 1%). It is stable to nuclear decay. Since there is a low percentage in natural carbon, spectrum acquisition on samples which have not been experimentally enriched in takes a long time. Frequently used for labeling of compounds in synthetic and metabolic studies. Has low sensitivity and wide chemical shift, yields sharp signals. Low percentage makes it useful by preventing spin-spin couplings and makes the spectrum appear less crowded. Slow relaxation means that spectra are not integrable unless long acquisition times are used.
  • , spin-1, medium sensitivity nucleus with wide chemical shift. Its large quadrupole moment interferes in acquisition of high resolution spectra, limiting usefulness to smaller molecules and functional groups with a high degree of symmetry such as the headgroups of lipids.
  • , spin-, relatively commonly used. Can be used for labeling compounds. Nucleus very insensitive but yields sharp signals. Low percentage in natural nitrogen together with low sensitivity requires high concentrations or expensive isotope enrichment.
  • , spin-, low sensitivity and very low natural abundance (0.037%), wide chemical shifts range (up to 2000 ppm). Quadrupole moment causing a line broadening. Used in metabolic and biochemical studies in studies of chemical equilibria.
  • , spin-, relatively commonly measured. Sensitive, yields sharp signals, has wide chemical shift.
  • , spin-, 100% of natural phosphorus. Medium sensitivity, wide chemical shifts range, yields sharp lines. Spectra tend to have a moderate amount of noise. Used in biochemical studies and in coordination chemistry where phosphorus containing ligands are involved.
  • and , broad signal. significantly more sensitive, preferred over despite its slightly broader signal. Organic chlorides yield very broad signals, its use is limited to inorganic and ionic chlorides and very small organic molecules.
  • , used in biochemistry to study calcium binding to DNA, proteins, etc. Moderately sensitive, very low natural abundance.
  • , used in studies of catalysts and complexes.
Other nuclei (usually used in the studies of their complexes and chemical binding, or to detect presence of the element):
  • ,
  • , ,
  • ,
  • ,
  • ,
  • ,
  • ,



The application of nuclear magnetic resonance best known to the general public is magnetic resonance imaging for medical diagnosis and magnetic resonance microscopy in research settings, however, it is also widely used in chemical studies, notably in NMR spectroscopy such as proton NMR, carbon-13 NMR, deuterium NMR and phosphorus-31 NMR. Biochemical information can also be obtained from living tissue (e.g. human brain tumors) with the technique known as in vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy or chemical shift NMR Microscopy. These studies are possible because nuclei are surrounded by orbiting electrons, which are charged particles that generate small, local magnetic fields that add to or subtract from the external magnetic field, and so will partially shield the nuclei. The amount of shielding depends on the exact local environment. For example, a hydrogen bonded to an oxygen will be shielded differently from a hydrogen bonded to a carbon atom. In addition, two hydrogen nuclei can interact via a process known as spin-spin coupling, if they are on the same molecule, which will split the lines of the spectra in a recognizable way. As one of the two major spectroscopic techniques used in metabolomics, NMR is used to generate metabolic fingerprints from biological fluids to obtain information about disease states or toxic insults.


By studying the peaks of nuclear magnetic resonance spectra, chemists can determine the structure of many compounds. It can be a very selective technique, distinguishing among many atoms within a molecule or collection of molecules of the same type but which differ only in terms of their local chemical environment. NMR spectroscopy is used to unambiguously identify known and novel compounds, and as such, is usually required by scientific journals for identity confirmation of synthesized new compounds. See the articles on carbon-13 NMR and proton NMR for detailed discussions. By studying T2 information, a chemist can determine the identity of a compound by comparing the observed nuclear precession frequencies to known frequencies. Further structural data can be elucidated by observing spin-spin coupling, a process by which the precession frequency of a nucleus can be influenced by the magnetization transfer from nearby chemically bound nuclei. Spin-spin coupling is observed in NMR of hydrogen-1 ( NMR), since its natural abundance is nearly 100%; isotope enrichment is required for most other elements. Because the nuclear magnetic resonance timescale is rather slow, compared to other spectroscopic methods, changing the temperature of a T2* experiment can also give information about fast reactions, such as the Cope rearrangement or about structural dynamics, such as ring-flipping in cyclohexane. At low enough temperatures, a distinction can be made between the axial and equatorial hydrogens in cyclohexane. An example of nuclear magnetic resonance being used in the determination of a structure is that of buckminsterfullerene (often called "buckyballs", composition C60). This now famous form of carbon has 60 carbon atoms forming a sphere. The carbon atoms are all in identical environments and so should see the same internal H field. Unfortunately, buckminsterfullerene contains no hydrogen and so nuclear magnetic resonance has to be used. spectra require longer acquisition times since carbon-13 is not the common isotope of carbon (unlike hydrogen, where is the common isotope). However, in 1990 the spectrum was obtained by R. Taylor and co-workers at the University of Sussex and was found to contain a single peak, confirming the unusual structure of buckminsterfullerene.

Purity determination (w/w NMR)

NMR is primarily used for structural determination, however it can also be used for purity determination, providing that the structure and molecular weight of the compound is known. This technique requires the use of an internal standard of a known purity. Typically this standard will have a high molecular weight to facilitate accurate weighing, but relatively few protons so as to give a clear peak for later integration e.g. 1,2,4,5-tetrachloro-3-nitrobenzene. Accurately weighed portions of the standard and sample are combined and analysed by NMR. Suitable peaks are selected for both compounds and the purity of the sample determined via the following equation. \mathrm{Purity} = \frac{w_\mathrm{std} \times n \mathrm{H}_\mathrm{std} \times MW_\mathrm{spl}}{w_\mathrm{spl} \times MW_\mathrm{std} \times n \mathrm{H}_\mathrm{spl}} \times P Where:
  • wstd: weight of internal standard
  • wspl: weight of sample
  • n Hstd: the integrated area of the peak selected for comparison in the standard, corrected for the number of protons in that functional group
  • n Hspl: the integrated area of the peak selected for comparison in the sample, corrected for the number of protons in that functional group
  • MWstd: molecular weight of standard
  • MWspl: molecular weight of sample
  • P: purity of internal standard

Non-destructive testing

Nuclear magnetic resonance is extremely useful for analyzing samples non-destructively. Radio waves and static magnetic fields easily penetrate many types of matter and anything that is not inherently ferromagnetic. For example, various expensive biological samples, such as nucleic acids, including RNA and DNA, or proteins, can be studied using nuclear magnetic resonance for weeks or months before using destructive biochemical experiments. This also makes nuclear magnetic resonance a good choice for analyzing dangerous samples.

Acquisition of dynamic information

In addition to providing static information on molecules by determining their 3D structures in solution, one of the remarkable advantages of NMR over X-ray crystallography is that it can be used to obtain important dynamic information.

Data acquisition in the petroleum industry

Another use for nuclear magnetic resonance is data acquisition in the petroleum industry for petroleum and natural gas exploration and recovery. Initial research in this domain began in the 1950s, however, the first commercial instruments were not released until the early 1990s. A borehole is drilled into rock and sedimentary strata into which nuclear magnetic resonance logging equipment is lowered. Nuclear magnetic resonance analysis of these boreholes is used to measure rock porosity, estimate permeability from pore size distribution and identify pore fluids (water, oil and gas). These instruments are typically low field NMR spectrometers. NMR logging, a subcategory of electromagnetic logging, measures the induced magnet moment of hydrogen nuclei (protons) contained within the fluid-filled pore space of porous media (reservoir rocks). Unlike conventional logging measurements (e.g., acoustic, density, neutron, and resistivity), which respond to both the rock matrix and fluid properties and are strongly dependent on mineralogy, NMR-logging measurements respond to the presence of hydrogen protons. Because these protons primarily occur in pore fluids, NMR effectively responds to the volume, composition, viscosity, and distribution of these fluids, for example oil, gas or water. NMR logs provide information about the quantities of fluids present, the properties of these fluids, and the sizes of the pores containing these fluids. From this information, it is possible to infer or estimate:
  • The volume (porosity) and distribution (permeability) of the rock pore space
  • Rock composition
  • Type and quantity of fluid hydrocarbons
  • Hydrocarbon producibility
The basic core and log measurement is the T2 decay, presented as a distribution of T2 amplitudes versus time at each sample depth, typically from 0.3 ms to 3 s. The T2 decay is further processed to give the total pore volume (the total porosity) and pore volumes within different ranges of T2. The most common volumes are the bound fluid and free fluid. A permeability estimate is made using a transform such as the Timur-Coates or SDR permeability transforms. By running the log with different acquisition parameters, direct hydrocarbon typing and enhanced diffusion are possible.

Flow probes for NMR spectroscopy

Recently, real-time applications of NMR in liquid media have been developed using specifically designed flow probes (flow cell assemblies) which can replace standard tube probes. This has enabled techniques that can incorporate the use of high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) or other continuous flow sample introduction devices.{{cite journal |title = Flow Probes for NMR Spectroscopy |author = Haner, R.L. |author2 = Keifer, P.A. |last-author-amp = yes |journal = Encyclopedia of Magnetic Resonance |date = 2009 |doi= 10.1002/9780470034590.emrstm1085 |isbn = 0470034599 }}

Process control

NMR has now entered the arena of real-time process control and process optimization in oil refineries and petrochemical plants. Two different types of NMR analysis are utilized to provide real time analysis of feeds and products in order to control and optimize unit operations. Time-domain NMR (TD-NMR) spectrometers operating at low field (2–20 MHz for ) yield free induction decay data that can be used to determine absolute hydrogen content values, rheological information, and component composition. These spectrometers are used in mining, polymer production, cosmetics and food manufacturing as well as coal analysis. High resolution FT-NMR spectrometers operating in the 60 MHz range with shielded permanent magnet systems yield high resolution NMR spectra of refinery and petrochemical streams. The variation observed in these spectra with changing physical and chemical properties is modeled using chemometrics to yield predictions on unknown samples. The prediction results are provided to control systems via analogue or digital outputs from the spectrometer.

Earth's field NMR

In the Earth's magnetic field, NMR frequencies are in the audio frequency range, or the very low frequency and ultra low frequency bands of the radio frequency spectrum. Earth's field NMR (EFNMR) is typically stimulated by applying a relatively strong dc magnetic field pulse to the sample and, after the end of the pulse, analyzing the resulting low frequency alternating magnetic field that occurs in the Earth's magnetic field due to free induction decay (FID). These effects are exploited in some types of magnetometers, EFNMR spectrometers, and MRI imagers. Their inexpensive portable nature makes these instruments valuable for field use and for teaching the principles of NMR and MRI. An important feature of EFNMR spectrometry compared with high-field NMR is that some aspects of molecular structure can be observed more clearly at low fields and low frequencies, whereas other aspects observable at high fields are not observable at low fields. This is because:
  • Electron-mediated heteronuclear J-couplings ( spin-spin couplings) are field independent, producing clusters of two or more frequencies separated by several Hz, which are more easily observed in a fundamental resonance of about 2 kHz."Indeed it appears that enhanced resolution is possible due to the long spin relaxation times and high field homogeneity which prevail in EFNMR."
  • Chemical shifts of several ppm are clearly separated in high field NMR spectra, but have separations of only a few millihertz at proton EFNMR frequencies, so are usually lost in noise etc.

Zero field NMR

In zero field NMR all magnetic fields are shielded such that magnetic fields below 1 nT (nano tesla) are achieved and the nuclear precession frequencies of all nuclei are close to zero and indistinguishable. Under those circumstances the observed spectra are no-longer dictated by chemical shifts but primarily by J-coupling interactions which are independent of the external magnetic field. Since inductive detection schemes are not sensitive at very low frequencies, on the order of the J-couplings (typically between 0 and 1000 Hz), alternative detection schemes are used. Specifically, sensitive magnetometers turn out to be good detectors for zero field NMR. A zero magnetic field environment does not provide any polarization hence it is the combination of zero field NMR with hyperpolarization schemes that makes zero field NMR attractive.

Quantum computing

NMR quantum computing uses the spin states of nuclei within molecules as qubits. NMR differs from other implementations of quantum computers in that it uses an ensemble of systems, in this case molecules.


Various magnetometers use NMR effects to measure magnetic fields, including proton precession magnetometers (PPM) (also known as proton magnetometers), and Overhauser magnetometers. See also Earth's field NMR.

Makers of NMR equipment

Major NMR instrument makers include Thermo Fisher Scientific, Magritek, Oxford Instruments, Bruker, Spinlock SRL, General Electric, JEOL, Kimble Chase, Philips, Siemens AG, and Agilent Technologies, Inc. (who own Varian, Inc.).

See also


Further reading

  • {{cite book
|author = Gary E. Martin |author-link = Gary E. Martin |author2 = A. S. Zektzer |title = Two-Dimensional NMR Methods for Establishing Molecular Connectivity |publisher = Wiley-VCH |location = New York |date = 1988 |page = 59 |isbn = 0-471-18707-0 |url = https://books.google.com/books?id=9ysYrpe_NoEC&printsec=frontcover }}
  • {{cite book
|author = J.W. Akitt |author2 = B.E. Mann |title = NMR and Chemistry |publisher =Stanley Thornes |location = Cheltenham, UK |date = 2000 |pages = 273, 287 |isbn = 0-7487-4344-8 }}
  • {{cite journal
|author = G.M. Clore |author2 = A.M. Gronenborn |date = 1991 |doi = 10.1126/science.2047852 |title = Structures of larger proteins in solution: three- and four-dimensional heteronuclear NMR spectroscopy |journal = Science |volume = 252 |issue = 5011 | pages=1390–1399 |pmid=2047852 }}
  • {{cite web
|author = J.P. Hornak |title = The Basics of NMR |url = http://www.cis.rit.edu/htbooks/nmr/ |accessdate = 2009-02-23 }}
  • {{cite book
|author = J. Keeler |title = Understanding NMR Spectroscopy |publisher =John Wiley & Sons |date=2005 |isbn=0-470-01786-4 }}
  • {{cite book
|author = Kurt Wüthrich |author-link = Kurt Wüthrich |title = NMR of Proteins and Nucleic Acids |publisher = Wiley-Interscience |location = New York (NY), USA |date = 1986 |isbn = 0-471-11917-2 }}
  • {{cite journal
|author = J.M. Tyszka |author2 = S.E. Fraser |author3 = R.E. Jacobs |date = 2005 |doi = 10.1016/j.copbio.2004.11.004 |title = Magnetic resonance microscopy: recent advances and applications |journal = Current Opinion in Biotechnology |volume = 16 |issue = 1 |pages=93–99 |pmid = 15722021 }}
  • {{cite book
|author = R.L. Haner |author2 = P.A. Keifer |title = Encyclopedia of Magnetic Resonance |publisher = John Wiley |doi = 10.1002/9780470034590.emrstm1085 |date = 2009 }}

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This article based upon the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_magnetic_resonance, the free encyclopaedia Wikipedia and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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