Significant boost for pioneering instrument to study molecules in exquisite detail

An innovative instrument which can improve our understanding of the structure and behaviour of molecules will receive a significant upgrade thanks to investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Researchers from the Leicester Institute of Structural and Chemical Biology (LISCB) have won an award for the upgrade of their high-field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer.

NMR is a non-destructive analytical technique to study the structure and behaviour of molecules in solution in exquisite detail. NMR has a wide range of applications from physics and chemistry to biomedical science.

The upgraded instrument will be part of a £20M investment by the joint Research Councils to boost capacity and capability in NMR research for the UK, funding two new flagship 1 GHz NMR instruments for the national NMR facilities at Birmingham, HWB·NMR, and Warwick along with upgrades to NMR instrumentation across the UK.

For this bid, LISCB has formed a strategic alliance with HWB·NMR, which aligns with the ambitions of Midlands Innovation, a consortium of eight Midlands Universities.

The lead applicant at the University of Leicester and co-applicant for the Birmingham bid, Professor Geerten Vuister, said: “The award enables a complete renewal of all the electronics and control systems for our 800MHz spectrometer, leaving only the magnet in its original state. This is a much needed replacement, as the spectrometer hardware has been regularly failing and can no longer be serviced. It is in effect like a ‘vintage car’ for which spare parts are no longer available and we finally get to replace it with the latest model.

“Even more important however, the new equipment will enable us to perform many new kinds of experiments that we could not do before. It is also very stimulating to team up with Prof Ulrich Günther of HWB·NMR. Their new 1GHz spectrometer will be a crucial step-change for the UK NMR community, and at Birmingham scientists will benefit from a unique line-up of magnets at a single location, that is available nowhere else in the UK and only in very few places in Europe.” 

Professor John Schwabe, director of LISCB, said: “Undoubtedly, the new capabilities will greatly stimulate our leading-edge research in structural and chemical biology, boosting our translation programmes in structure-based drug discovery to the greater benefit of the UK. Overall, this award is excellent news for the life and physical sciences in the UK.”