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Aug. 16, 2023

A super-compact NMR system that helps conserve helium

A research group led by RIKEN scientists has developed an innovative new machine—an incredibly light and compact NMR system, that achieves a magnetic field greater than 1 gigahertz, but weighs no more than a conventional system. On top of this, the system prevents the evaporation of liquid helium, thus promising to conserve a precious resource.

NMR machines are used to understand the properties of substances. They function by analyzing the behavior of atomic nuclei in extremely strong magnetic fields, and are used in a variety of scientific applications, including chemical analysis, drug discovery, and material science. While they are extremely useful, NMR machines are major consumers of helium, which in liquid phase, is used to cool an NMR’s superconducting magnets. Because helium is an important and precious resource, there is a strong demand for machines that can achieve the same or better results using less of it.

With this in mind, the RIKEN researchers sought to develop a compact ultra-1 gigahertz system that weighs about one-tenth of a conventional system, using bismuth-based high temperature superconducting (HTS) coil technology. The group was able to raise the current density of the HTS inner coil 1.5 times, allowing them to develop a compact 1.01 gigahertz NMR system weighing approximately 1.6 tons, about one-tenth the weight of the 1.02 gigahertz system that in 2015 had the highest magnetic field in the world.

The group included researchers from RIKEN, Japan Superconductor Technology, Inc., Tokyo Institute of Technology, JEOL Ltd., and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST).

According to RIKEN’s Yoshinori Yanagisawa, “We believe that this technology will facilitate the use of high-performance NMR systems and allow researchers to carry out advanced research such as the analysis of amyloid-β peptide, which is involved in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Is it also exciting that we were able to operate the machine for two months without needing to replenish any helium.” The announcement was made at Applied Superconductivity Conference 2022.

image comparing size of NMR machines