To dig deeper into the creation and launch of the picoSpin Benchtop NMR Spectrometer, Cole-Parmer spoke with Dean Antic, picoSpin Applications Chemist, and Chuck Miller, Director of Marketing and Business Operations for picoSpin.
Q: What prompted the development of the first miniature NMR spectrometer?
A: Pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and many other types of companies that manufacture small organic molecules often rely on Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. They use it to monitor and control production. It has long been known that NMR technology holds great promise in replacing or supplementing FTIR spectroscopy for these applications. However development has languished because NMR is too expensive and complex. Traditional NMR spectrometers are priced anywhere from $250,000 to $1,000,000. We realized that a miniature proton spectrometer would be far less costly and could still provide powerful analytical information.
We also sought to provide an accessible instrument for chemical education that could give students the hands-on experience they need. NMR is an essential component of any undergraduate curriculum in chemistry or biology, but too many universities and community colleges could not provide access for their students due to price.
Q: How is the picoSpin Benchtop NMR Spectrometer a breakthrough in chemical instrumentation?
A: It is portable, accessible, and affordable. Although it is about 10 times less expensive than traditional models, and about 100 times less massive, it is a true proton spectrometer that can resolve chemical shifts and spin splittings. Beyond the initial purchase price, the investment for owners is minimal. There is no regular maintenance needed and no liquid cryogens to replace. This differs substantially from previous NMR spectrometers that may have cost thousands per year to maintain.
The picoSpin Benchtop NMR Spectrometer can enhance quality control processes for many industries. It provides the ability to spot test samples and delivers near real-time data that does not have to be sent out to a lab to be analyzed. In checking concentration ratios, it can show immediately if the percentage of product is not right. For a small pilot plant, technicians can pull off a sample from the process flow and inject it into the picoSpin spectrometer to determine quality. For pharmaceutical companies, it can be used for reaction monitoring.
It takes the average user only two to three minutes to acquire the necessary data. Because there is no waiting for results to return from a lab, there is a substantial time savings. And, issues can be identified quickly, so problems are resolved faster. Sampling is easier, so it can be done more frequently which, in turn, yields a higher quality product.
Q: How is this technology a “game-changer” for academics?
The American Chemical Society (ACS) will only accredit bachelor degree programs in chemistry that include access to NMR in the laboratory courses. Because traditional NMR spectrometers have been expensive, many chemistry students end up interpreting spectra from NMR in their textbooks, without any hands-on experience. This miniature unit can have a profound impact on the scientific community because it provides wider access to the technology. Students can participate in the “live” use of the instrument. The experience they gain will help them as they continue on in graduate school or transition directly into a laboratory or industry setting.
Q: How about for researchers?
A: Until now, NMR spectrometers have only been available at shared, centralized facilities. With this miniature benchtop instrument, it is possible to have a dedicated unit on the lab bench, in a fume hood, or even in a glove box.
Q: The picoSpin Benchtop NMR Spectrometer can be used in various applications. Describe some of them.
A: Any situation in which chemists need to analyze small organic molecules in liquid form would be a potential application. Industries that do this analysis include forensics, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, petrochemicals, polymers, cosmetics, and many others.
Q: This technology is known for its simplicity. Users do not need any specialized knowledge or training to operate it. What do they need to know?
A: With traditional NMR spectrometers, only scientists with a master’s or PhD degree and lab directors would have the specialized knowledge to operate the technically challenging device.
With the picoSpin Benchtop NMR Spectrometer, someone with virtually no NMR experience, including undergraduates, can use it. The interface is simplified and the programming is intuitive. Once the instrument is hooked up through Ethernet cables and turned on, it can be controlled through any web browser. The analysis of the NMR data is straightforward and easy to automate. To develop a new application, a user does need to have basic knowledge of proton NMR spectroscopy and the relevant chemistry involved. Once the application has been developed, a complete data acquisition and analysis cycle can be initiated by anyone who is familiar with using a web browser. All basic scripts are loaded for running and can be chosen through pull-down menus.
Q: What technical support is available, if needed?
We provide direct off-site support and can log into the user’s instrument from our offices. We are developing a user’s manual as well, which we plan to place on our web site. We also hope to develop a Users’ Forum.
Of course, Cole-Parmer has a team of technical application specialists who can also answer questions by phone (800-323-4340), via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), Live Chat, or by visiting ColeParmer.com/tapps.
Q: Where do you see this technology leading?
This technology changes how we think about NMR applications. We cannot anticipate what creative scientists and engineers might do with this tool—the most significant applications may be those that we haven’t thought of yet. We’re excited about the future, and about continuing to find effective solutions for customers.
To find out more about the picoSpin Benchtop NMR Spectrometer, go to ColeParmer.com/8485.