By Dimitris Argyropoulos, ACD/Labs
Benchtop NMR instruments are becoming an indispensable addition to the analytical laboratory for their ability to make NMR spectroscopy more accessible to chemists. Today, the use of these instruments has gone beyond chemical analysis and there are numerous emerging fields and applications where they can be used to streamline workflows and accelerate innovation. A few of the newer applications including material testing, flow chemistry and use in teaching will be briefly discussed here.
The portability of benchtop instruments has opened new possibilities in quality control and material testing when immediate results are critical. One example of this can be seen in forensic laboratories and police departments when seized illicit drug samples need to be evaluated. With benchtop instruments, it is now possible to perform on-location analysis with highly reliable results. This cuts out the need to involve a specialized laboratory—a process that could take day—enabling authorities to make quick, yet credible decisions. This is particularly useful for newer types of synthetic analog drugs that may not appear on a list of known drugs. While a scientist’s analysis with mass spectrometer would require standards that are difficult to obtain in a short time, NMR is a quicker approach to identifying characteristic groups of a drug’s structure.
Flow chemistry is another field that has been evolving considerably since the availability of benchtop NMR systems. Any commercially available benchtop NMR instrument can be equipped with a flow cell for measuring samples pumped through it. This by itself can revolutionize a broad range of other applications such as drug development, reaction monitoring, and kinetics studies. Transferring chemical reactions to a unique flow cell and variable temperature probe enables the chemists to closely monitor and control the reaction progress and end-products in real-time. This will significantly reduce time, effort, reagent volume, and in turn optimize yields of the reactions. The NMR instrument can literally be brought into the fume hood, instead of the other way around, thus reducing the complexity of the setup and eliminating potential compromises that may have been needed otherwise.
Accessible benchtop NMR spectrometers are more affordable for educational institutions and can help undergraduates get hands-on experience on this valuable analytical tool. In addition, the ability to rapidly record NMR spectra as part of the standard laboratory practice enhances the students’ appreciation of the technique and lifts the shroud of mystery and complexity surrounding it in the eyes of the young scientist.
Overall, NMR provides unprecedented levels of molecular and structural information that other analytical techniques cannot deliver. The use of big superconducting magnets will always be at the forefront when it comes to pushing the boundaries in materials science, drug development, structural biology, and origin of many protein-related diseases. Thus, high field NMR magnets will continue to grow bigger and stronger.
On the other hand, benchtop NMR is affordable with no additional maintenance costs, providing a great complementary tool in R&D settings for pre-screening and flagging samples that require further characterization or assessment. Additionally, compact NMR can be a valuable educational tool for academia, and a great alternative for smaller labs to save time, money, and space for many routine applications.
We at ACD/Labs foresee benchtop NMR being utilized even more in the laboratory of the future. As technology advances, so will innovations in software and we expect that smaller, customized versions of NMR will become more popular. The future of benchtop NMR is looking bright and prosperous.
For more background and information on the current applications of benchtop NMR, read my article in Labcompare here.