The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) laboratory at the University of Barcelona (UB) is in luck. Why? Because this afternoon you presented an infrastructure that is unique in all of Europe. It is a very high-field NMR spectrometer, which uses high-temperature superconductors (the main novelty) and is capable of creating a magnetic field 500,000 times more intense than that of Earth. This technology is applied in research areas such as chemistry, biology and biomedicine and is decisive for studying the characteristics of molecules and thus detecting interactions between drugs and receptors, identifying new therapeutic targets and designing drugs to fight diseases.

What makes the NMR technique special is that, unlike other technologies like infrared, it requires a very intense magnetic field. “If you, for example, want to determine the structure of aspirin and you don’t have a very intense magnetic field, you can’t”, he explains. the vanguard doctor Francisco Cárdenas, head of the NMR unit at the CCiTUB (Centres Científics i Tecnològics de la UB). The magnetic properties of atoms are only detected in the presence of a magnetic field, it is an essential requirement.

But it’s not easy to get such powerful magnetic fields. “We are building more and more magnets with larger magnetic fields,” says Cárdenas. For example, a button: the magnetic field of the new device (of 23.5 Teslas) is 500 thousand times more intense than the terrestrial magnetic field. “Because the MRI technique is so insensitive, the bigger and more powerful the magnet, the better. For this reason, since the 70s, we have gone from magnetic fields of 4 Teslas, to fields of 8, 15, 18, 20 and even 23.5. And thanks to that, sensitivity is not so much of a problem anymore”, adds the researcher.


magnetic fields

ultra intense to service

of science

magnetic resonance spectrometer

1 GHz nuclear

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is applied

in research areas such as chemistry, biology

and biomedicine

It is used for the study of molecules and is able

in detect drug interactions

and receivers

Identifies new therapeutic targets that facilitate

the design of drugs to combat

illnesses

Cylinder through which the sample

Camera

with nitrogen

liquid

at -196°C

covered area

of steel

stainless

cameras

of emptiness

isolate

the liquids

cryogenic

of the temperature

atmosphere

camera with

liquid helium

at -269°C

keeps

the supercon-

ductivity

Coil

of material

superconductor

at -269°C

Here is generated

the intense field

magnetic

Cylinder through which the probe

This new device has the ability to create

a magnetic field 500,000 times stronger

that the Earth’s magnetic field

It is the first team in Europe and second in the world

–after Japan– in the use of superconductors

generate magnetic fields in an instrument

1GHz NMR

This device has a 25% stronger magnetic field

high than the most powerful equipment before

Its use means considerable time savings.

in the search. an experiment that demanded a

week with 800 MHz equipment can be solved

in a day with this new breakthrough

Source: University of Barcelona. THE VANGUARD

magnetic fields

ultra intense to service

of science

magnetic resonance spectrometer

1 GHz nuclear

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is applied

in research areas such as chemistry, biology

and biomedicine

It is used for the study of molecules and is able

in detect drug interactions

and receivers

Identifies new therapeutic targets that facilitate

the design of drugs to combat

illnesses

Cylinder through which the sample

Camera

with nitrogen

liquid

at -196°C

covered area

of steel

stainless

cameras

of emptiness

isolate

the liquids

cryogenic

of the temperature

atmosphere

camera with

liquid helium

at -269°C

keeps

the supercon-

ductivity

Coil

of material

superconductor

at -269°C

Here is generated

the intense field

magnetic

Cylinder through which the probe

This new device has the ability to create

a magnetic field 500,000 times stronger

that the Earth’s magnetic field

It is the first team in Europe and second in the world

–after Japan– in the use of superconductors

generate magnetic fields in an instrument

1GHz NMR

This device has a 25% stronger magnetic field

high than the most powerful equipment before

Its use means considerable time savings.

in the search. an experiment that demanded a

week with 800 MHz equipment can be solved

in a day with this new breakthrough

Source: University of Barcelona. THE VANGUARD

Ultra-intense magnetic fields in service

of science

1 GHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is applied in research areas

such as chemistry, biology and biomedicine

It is used for the study of molecules and is able to detect interactions

between drugs and receptors

Identifies new therapeutic targets that facilitate drug design

to fight diseases

Cylinder through which the sample

camera with nitrogen

liquid at -196°C

steel deck

stainless

vacuum chambers

isolate liquids

cryogenic

room temperature

camera with helium

liquid at -269°C

keeps the

superconductivity

material coil

superconductor

at -269°C

Here is generated the intense

magnetic field

Cylinder through which the probe

This new device has the ability to create a magnetic field 500,000 times

stronger than Earth’s magnetic field

It is the first team in Europe and second in the world –after Japan– in use

superconductors to generate magnetic fields in a 1 GHz NMR instrument

This device has a 25% greater magnetic field that the team

previous most powerful

Its use means considerable time savings. in the search. an experiment

what needed one week with 800 MHz equipment can be fixed in one day

with this new advancement

Source: University of Barcelona. THE VANGUARD

The problem lay, at least until now, in the fact that the most advanced material could not exceed 18 Teslas, and scientists required larger magnetic fields. Now, thanks to a Spanish patent -which is behind the coil material that incorporates this new equipment developed in a European project led by the Institute of Materials Science (CSIC) of Barcelona- this pioneering device has been created in Europe and the second in world -after Japan- to use high temperature superconductors to generate magnetic fields in a 1 GHz NMR instrument.

Under certain conditions, these superconducting coils are able to offer no resistance to the passage of electric current (zero resistance) and allow the permanent circulation of an electric flow, once disconnected from the electrical network.

The public presentation of the equipment was attended by the Minister of Science and Innovation, Diana Morant, and the Minister of Research and Universities, Joaquim Nadal

The new team has a cost of almost 9 million euros

LV / Xavi Jurio

Until the advent of this equipment, to achieve the superconductivity required to reach 18 Teslas, a superconductor at a temperature of 2 kelvins (-271.15 ℃) was required. The new device works at 4 kelvin (-269.15 ℃). “Going from 4 to 2 involves a very significant technological complication”, says Cárdenas. And this is precisely what is new, that this new material with which the equipment’s coil was made achieves superconductivity at 4 kelvins.

“In other words, cooling liquid helium to this temperature [debido a las temperaturas de transición extremadamente bajas de los superconductores utilizados técnicamente, es necesario que se enfríen con helio líquido, el líquido más frío de la Tierra], you get a much larger magnetic field than has existed up to now, and you save even more on the technology of cooling the gas. It must be taken into account that this gas is very expensive and increasingly scarce. With this system, the cost of liquid helium is much lower.”

CCiTUB researchers working with new NMR device

CCiTUB researchers working with new NMR device

LV / Xavi Jurio

All the magnets that existed until now – in Florence a 1.2 GHz one was installed; in Lyon a 1 GHz- worked at 2 kelvin. This new contraption operates at 4 kelvin. “This is technological success”, points out Cárdenas. “Before, these powerful magnetic fields were already achieved, but at a huge cost in helium and pumping technology to cool it, which is expensive, dangerous and complex. Now it’s been simplified thanks to this high-temperature superconductor, which goes from 2 to 4 kelvins. That is, they can work at 4 kelvins and withstand very intense magnetic fields, more than the equipment of the previous generation”.

With such high magnetic fields, not only is an important gain in resolution and sensitivity achieved, but also a significant decrease in the time to obtain data: an experiment that required a week in 800 MHz equipment could be solved in one day with the new gadget .

The NMR technique has multiple applications. Among them, it has the ability to indirectly measure the three-dimensional structure of something as complex as a protein. But not only that, it simplifies its spectrum. For example, in a protein like insulin, there are between 3,000 and 4,000 atoms of hydrogen, 2,000 of carbon, and 500 of nitrogen. “It’s a very crowded and overlapping spectrum,” argues Cárdenas. A magnetic field as intense as that which this new equipment is capable of generating -which has a cost of 8.9 million euros financed thanks to a grant from the Ministry of Science and Innovation and NextGeneration funds-, is not only capable of being more sensitive, but it also increases dispersion, i.e. it stretches and simplifies the spectrum.

And what does this simplification mean? “If you take the initial picture of the protein and add a drug to it, you can see which region of the protein is affected by the drug. The changes in structure compared to the original give an idea if there is interaction with the medicine and if it can have a therapeutic function in the future or not. If you add the medicine and the protein stays the same, it means the medicine doesn’t work.”

The Minister of Science and Innovation, Diana Morant, and the Minister of Research and Universities, Joaquim Nadal were present at the launch of the new equipment

The Minister of Science and Innovation, Diana Morant, and the Minister of Research and Universities, Joaquim Nadal were present at the launch of the new equipment

LV / Xavi Jurio

This capability, however, for the analysis of a protein -Cardenas reiterates- already existed with previous devices. “What makes the new equipment very special is its ability to work at 4 kelvins”, he insists.

This pioneering equipment in Europe was presented this afternoon at the UB’s Barcelona Science Park (where the CCiTUBs are located) and was attended by the Minister of Science and Innovation, Diana Morant, and the Minister of Research and Universities, Joaquim Nadal.