• Who Discovered NMR Spectroscopy?

Mass Spectrometry & Spectroscopy

Who Discovered NMR Spectroscopy?

Oct 15 2021

Since Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) molecular beams were first observed and measured in 1938, the analytical technique has become an invaluable tool across a wide range of fields. Today, state-of-the-art instruments are used to analyse the molecular structure of a sample, as well as determine variables like content and purity.

A multitude of chemists, scientists and researchers have contributed to the discovery and development of NMR Spectroscopy over the decades, some receiving more recognition than others. Below, we spotlight some of the biggest names in NMR Spectroscopy and their contributions to the field.

Isidor Isaac Rabi and the Stern-Gerlach experiment

American physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi was an early pioneer of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1944 for his discoveries. In 1938 he built on the well-known Stern-Gerlach experiment of 1921, which saw scientists Otto Stern and Walter Gerlach observe the deflections of a beam of silver atoms as it passed through an inhomogeneous magnetic field. By proving that the spatial orientation of angular momentum is quantised, Stern and Gerlach proved the atomic-scale system has quantum properties.

Felix Bloch and Edward Mills Purcell 

In 1946, American physicists Felix Bloch and Edward Mills Purcell built on the NMR foundations laid by Rabi, Stern and Gerlach. They expanded the analytical technique and applied it to both liquids and solids, winning them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1952.

Richard Robert Ernst

Richard Robert Ernst was the next big name to reimagine the capabilities of NMR Spectroscopy. In 1991 the Swiss scientist was awarded the 1991 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his contributions to the development of the methodology of high resolution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy." The breakthroughs were made during Ernst’s time working at Silicon Valley-based tech company Varian Associates and public research university, ETH Zurich.

“Protons and neutrons in the atomic nucleus behave like small spinning magnets. Accordingly, atoms and molecules assume a certain orientation in a magnetic field. This can be dislodged, however, by radio waves of certain frequencies that are characteristic for different atoms,” reads the Nobel Prize website. “Known as resonance frequencies, these are also affected by the atoms' chemical surroundings. As a result, the phenomenon can be utilized to determine the composition and structure of various molecules. To accomplish this, Richard Ernst developed highly sensitive and high resolution methods in the 1960s and 1970s.”

New advances NMR Spectroscopy

New advances in techniques and technologies continue to push the boundaries of NMR Spectroscopy. British-based company Oxford Instruments is a leader in high-tech products and services, with the new X-Pulse Broadband Benchtop NMR Spectrometer the latest addition to the arsenal. Find out more about the cutting-edge technology in ‘X-Nuclei NMR Spectroscopy’.


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