Three months after the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the CSIR and the University of South Africa (Unisa) for collaborative research and biotechnology skills transfer, scientists have started with preparations to operate the newly acquired nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) instrument.
Peter Biller from SMM Instruments demonstrates how paper clips, inside a glass beaker, align themselves with the magnetic field surrounding the magnet housing
Dr Martin Myer, Senior Lecturer and Research Coordinator in the Department of Life Consumer Sciences at Unisa, who was instrumental in facilitating the partnership between the two organisations, says scientists had to wait three months for the machine to become operational, because a totally new facility to house the instrument had to be built.
The NMR instrument is currently undergoing commissioning in this new facility at CSIR Biosciences. Among others, the facility has a specially reinforced floor to support the magnet installation, which weighs one and a half ton. In addition, various other support items, such as a source of specially purified compressed air to move samples into and out of the magnet housing, as well as a dedicated back-up power and internet system, are in place to allow the NMR to function.
Dr Myer says that 600 MHz NMR instrument, which is worth close to R10 million, is set to revolutionise the accuracy of scientific research, specifically in the area of structural elucidation of small organic and other biological molecules. The NMR operates as a very sophisticated radio, by making use of varying radio frequencies, which then interact with the nuclei of atoms in sample material placed inside the magnet housing. This housing contains a superconducting magnet, which generates a force field 300 000 times stronger than the magnetic field of the Earth.
The superconducting magnet was activated recently, in preparation for the NMR instrument to commence its functions. The actual stabilisation of the different axes of the magnetic field is a laborious process, with many repetitive steps that can take up to a four of five weeks. A demonstration to stakeholders and other interested parties on how the instrument operates, is planned for the middle of August.
Enquiries: CSIR Communication