"For nuclear magnetic resonance, 23 tesla is now the cutting edge for science," Brey said. "So 36 tesla is years and years beyond the cutting edge. It's an increase in field strength of more than 50 percent."
And that's saying something, given that the last 50-percent jump in magnetic-field strength took 20 years, said Tim Cross, a chemistry professor at Florida State and director of the Magnet Lab's Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Program.
"NMR and MRI techniques are very powerful, but they have been limited to just a few elements," Brey said. "This new spectrometer and the 36-tesla magnet will give scientists around the world a new window on most of the known elements, including oxygen, nitrogen, and metals."
Researchers such as Cross will use the spectrometer to examine the role of proteins in cells in ways that could lead to breakthroughs in science's understanding of diseases. Other scientists will use the same spectrometer to study materials for new generations of batteries.
The new hybrid magnet will have some other advantages for NMR. Unlike hospital MRI and chemistry-department NMR magnets, which operate at a fixed-field strength, the hybrid magnet and spectrometer will allow for experiments across a range of field strengths, literally providing a new dimension for NMR. The new magnet also will be able to run for more than eight continuous hours at full magnetic field, enough time to collect the weak signals and finish long and complex experiments.
"Whenever there's been a big jump in magnetic-field strength like this, people have won Nobel Prizes," Brey said. "So who knows?"
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