EPSRC announces £20 million investment in NMR equipment

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UK researchers investigating materials and molecular structures will be able to take advantage of new and highly precise scientific instrumentation that will be operating in eight UK universities thanks to a major £20 million investment in research infrastructure.

The investment in very high and ultra-high field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy was announced today by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) on behalf of three other research councils, the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), who have supported the funding and also form part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

NMR is a key technique that has impact across a wide span of science from materials science to medicine.

The equipment includes two 1.0 GHz systems (currently the highest commercially available field) plus upgrades to a range of systems with field strengths between 800 MHz and 950 MHz. This will increase both the capability and capacity of solid and solution-state NMR across the UK.

UKRI's Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport said: The UK's global stature in research and innovation is founded on access to internationally competitive infrastructure. This investment means researchers will have new systems that provide greater sensitivity and a greater understanding of molecular structures, with potential impacts in pharmaceuticals, biomaterials, materials science and biotechnology.

Professor Mark E. Smith, Vice Chancellor at Lancaster University, who wrote two reports on NMR infrastructure on behalf of EPSRC in 2013 and 2017, and helped EPSRC develop the call for proposals, said: The UK has a longstanding reputation for excellence in the development and application of NMR.

Recent reviews of NMR showed that, while there had been good levels of investment in NMR infrastructure, in recent years the UK had come off the pace in terms of the very highest fields available to our community compared to our major international competitors.

This welcome and very substantial investment will provide the UK community with new cutting-edge facilities, while modernising existing facilities. This is a hugely welcome boost for UK research to be able to compete with the very best.

The full range of investments is as follows:

University of Birmingham

A 1.0 GHz spectrometer solution state system configured for predominantly medical use.

It will be used in biomedical applications, such as real-time measurements of cancer cell metabolism, to develop new analytical methods, and for drug discovery and development activities.

University of Warwick

A solid state NMR 1.0 GHz system configured for mixed use, predominantly in materials science to deliver advances in chemistry, biology and materials science.

It will provide new structural and dynamic information and provide potential for improved pharmaceutical formulations and drug delivery, and better quality materials for energy and catalysis.

The grant will take advantage of the existing broad academic and industrial user-base of the 850 MHz solid state NMR National Research Facility at the same site.

University of Oxford

A new cryoprobe for an existing 950MHz system will provide greatly increased sensitivity allowing analysis of a wider range of scarce and low-concentration compounds.

It will permit improved understanding of molecular structures and functionality, be valuable to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies for screening programmes, provide greater throughput of samples and lead to improved links between existing biochemistry and chemistry communities at Oxford and elsewhere.

The facility involves support from the University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and King's College London.

University of Edinburgh

An upgraded 800 MHz system and probes will provide a focal point for NMR research primarily with the major Scottish universities as well as outreach to industry. The equipment will allow for increased capability and capacity in solution and solid-state NMR, with planned applications in chemistry, materials sciences and biology.

It also provides potential for the development of new materials, biomaterials and pharmaceuticals based on improved understanding of molecular structure.

University of Leicester

An upgrade to an existing 800 MHz system will provide a platform for method development and the training of a new generation of NMR scientists, with plans to develop in-cell NMR technology - a unique capacity in the UK.

The development of new methods and techniques is based on improved capability.

Outreach and coordination with the wider community will take place through the existing Collaborative Computational Project for NMR (CCPN) network, led by Leicester.

University of Nottingham

An upgrade of existing 800 MHz system will provide enhanced sensitivity and an increased range of applications.

Potential developments enabled by the technology cut across the physical and life sciences and include insight into catalytic processes, next-generation pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, energy materials, food and nutrition, and improved understanding of antibiotic resistance.

University of Liverpool

An upgrade of the 800 MHz system will include additional solid state capacity.

This will provide enhanced liquid and solid state capability to investigate science linked to materials, personalised medicine, biotechnology, food science and animal health.

University of Sheffield

The 800 MHz NMR facility will be upgraded with additional high-pressure analytical capability.

There will be planned research programmes to improve chemical manufacture, develop bioenergy materials, photosynthesis and green energy, cancer treatment and biopharmaceutical development.

Notes to editors:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

EPSRC is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. By investing in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation.

Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future UK prosperity by contributing to a healthy, connected, resilient, productive nation.

Reference: PN 26-18

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