This phenomenon is called nuclear magnetic resonance, and it is used to look at the structural properties of a material’s atomic makeup. As a technique, it is widely used in organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, biology, quality control, medical analysis, and non-destructive testing. NMR applications include:
An essential factor for NMR is that the resonance frequency of a substance is directly proportional to the magnetic field that is applied to it. Typically, with the strong magnetic fields generated by the superconducting magnets, or coils, used in modern NMR instruments, proton resonance frequency falls within the radio-wave range, anywhere from 100 MHz to 800 MHz, depending on the strength of the magnet.
NMR imaging techniques can produce high-quality images because of this, and NMR spectroscopy is used to study molecular physics by providing information on the structure of organic molecules.
The nuclei produce an electromagnetic signal by placing an atom in a strong magnetic field and then exposing it to an oscillating magnetic field produced by the magnets. The signal made shares qualities with the magnetic field at the nucleus and provides a lot of information about the properties of the atom.
This process results in nuclear spin, where the atom is excited for a specific amount of time before returning to its equilibrium state by a process known as T1 and T2 relaxation. Measuring this relaxation behavior provides more information about the material being tested. There are three main steps involved in the NMR process:
Obtaining information about a molecule’s structure can be difficult; however, high-resolution nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy offers a solution.
After the samples are exposed to radio waves, an NMR signal is produced from the excited nuclei. This signal can be used to create unique, high-resolution NMR spectra that can be analyzed to determine the various properties of the material.
Compounds produce highly characteristic fields with unique NMR properties, making NMR spectroscopy invaluable in organic chemistry when identifying monomolecular organic compounds.
In biochemistry, it is used to identify proteins and other complex molecules. The most common types are proton spectroscopy and carbon-13 NMR spectroscopy.
Generally speaking, Fourier-transform spectroscopy describes a spectroscopic technique that uses Fourier transformation to analyze data and convert it into a spectrum. Specifically, Fourier-transform NMR spectroscopy uses electromagnetic radiation from a molecule to obtain a spectrum that can be analyzed.
It is considered a type of magnetic spectroscopy, and the atomic nuclei are excited using radiofrequency pulses. Once placed in a strong magnetic field, the substance is struck by pulses of radio frequencies that excite the atoms in the sample, causing them to spin or gyrate.
This behavior is then picked up by a detector coil and analyzed. The specific spectral data obtained then can be used to identify many properties of the substance. Fourier-transform spectrometry has replaced the previously popular constant wave spectroscopy method because it is much more sensitive and can gather more information about samples.
Fourier-transform NMR spectrometers are considered the standard for NMR spectrometers, as they are considered precise and efficient. They are typically designed to be compact these days, as several manufacturers, such as Bruker, offer benchtop NMR instruments (along with a top-of-the-line selection of NMR systems.)
Many NMR spectroscopic techniques only plot their data along a simple frequency axis. However, more detail about molecules can be obtained if two axes are used. 2D-NMR spectroscopy takes the spectral data and plots it along two frequency axes.
This is particularly useful for observing molecular structures, incredibly complex molecules that cannot be fully observed using only one dimensional NMR. There are several 2D-NMR spectroscopy methods, including correlation spectroscopy (COSY), J-spectroscopy, and nuclear Overhauser effect spectroscopy (NOESY). 2D-NMR typically consists of four periods:
Though a valuable tool for analyzing atomic structures, NMR has difficulty analyzing solid-state materials. Using a technique known as magic angle spinning (MAS) and dipolar decoupling by RF pulses, SSNMRS can analyze these types of materials. MAS refers to the fact that in SSNMRS, the sample’s nuclei are spun at a high frequency and a specific angle known as the magic angle.
This increases the resolution meaning that the resulting spectral data is more detailed. This data can then be used to identify the molecule, analyze its structure, or look at the kinetics of a chemical system.
The concept of time is one of those ubiquitous yet highly complex terms that, once you believe you fully understand it, something comes along and changes your whole perspective.
In 2012, Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek did just that when he proposed the existence of time crystals. Typical crystals are defined as atoms or molecules arranged in a regular and repeated pattern to form a solid in space; Wilczek’s time crystals would do the same, only in time.
He proposed that these time crystals, which would be dynamically ever-changing in modes of behavior, would repeat at regular intervals. This spontaneity would, in theory, break the inherent symmetric characteristic of time.
Wilczek’s time crystals have since been proven to be impossible, but the basic principles of having a new type of matter phase continued to be investigated. In 2016, researchers at UC Santa Barbara illustrated that spontaneous breaking of time-translation symmetry is possible in the quantum system referred to as Floquet-many-body-localized driven system. More simply put, time-crystals should occur in systems naturally out of thermal equilibrium.
This specific version of time-crystals has been expanded on and even tested. Assistant Professor Norman Yao at the University of California, Berkeley showed how time-crystals could exist and wrote how to reproduce his results. Two colleagues at the University of Maryland and Harvard University have reproduced his results.
Due to the complex quantum nature of their work, NMR spectrometers have increasingly been used to study discrete time-crystals further. The excitation of atoms out of thermal equilibrium using NMR spectroscopy may be temporary, but it does provide a great place to observe this new phase of matter.
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