Pioneering instrument to study molecules in exquisite detail receives significant boost

Posted by ap507 at May 15, 2018 10:05 AM |
Upgrade for high-field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometer part of £20M Research Council investment

Issued by University of Leicester on 15 May 2018  

Image of the current NMR spectrometer available here:

An innovative instrument which can improve our understanding of the structure and behaviour of molecules will receive a significant upgrade thanks to investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Researchers from the Leicester Institute of Structural and Chemical Biology (LISCB) at the University Leicester have won an award for the upgrade of their high-field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer.

NMR is a non-destructive analytical technique to study the structure and behaviour of molecules in solution in exquisite detail. NMR has a wide range of applications from physics and chemistry to biomedical science.

The EPSRC investment is supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The upgraded instrument will be part of a £20M investment by the joint Research Councils to boost capacity and capability in NMR research for the UK, funding two new flagship 1 GHz NMR instruments for the national NMR facilities at Birmingham, HWB·NMR, and Warwick along with upgrades to NMR instrumentation across the UK.

For this bid, LISCB has formed a strategic alliance with HWB·NMR, which aligns with the ambitions of Midlands Innovation, a consortium of eight Midlands Universities.

The consortium is dedicated to sharing research infrastructure, and the NMR alliance mirrors the cooperation in cryo-electron microscopy, with the recently established Midlands Regional CryoEM Facility at LISCB.

The lead applicant at the University of Leicester and co-applicant for the Birmingham bid, Professor Geerten Vuister, said: “The award enables a complete renewal of all the electronics and control systems for our 800MHz spectrometer, leaving only the magnet in its original state. This is a much needed replacement, as the spectrometer hardware has been regularly failing and can no longer be serviced. It is in effect like a ‘vintage car’ for which spare parts are no longer available and we finally get to replace it with the latest model.

“Even more important however, the new equipment will enable us to perform many new kinds of experiments that we could not do before. It is also very stimulating to team up with Prof Ulrich Günther of HWB·NMR. Their new 1GHz spectrometer will be a crucial step-change for the UK NMR community, and at Birmingham scientists will benefit from a unique line-up of magnets at a single location, that is available nowhere else in the UK and only in very few places in Europe.” 

The successful bid takes optimal advantage of the strategic alliance in NMR research between the Universities of Birmingham and Leicester.

Professor Geerten Vuister is renowned for his research in structural biology using NMR, and leads the Research Council-funded Collaborative Computational Project for NMR (CCPN), a consortium of 28 UK and international NMR partners, including HWB·NMR.

Professor John Schwabe, director of LISCB, said: “This award is a major success and further establishes LISCB as an institute of research excellence in structural and chemical biology. The University of Leicester has invested over £4M in LISCB, including support for large and expensive research equipment, such as this NMR award. We appointed nine new staff members, many of whom will benefit greatly from making use of the new equipment.

“Undoubtedly, the new capabilities will greatly stimulate our leading-edge research in structural and chemical biology, boosting our translation programmes in structure-based drug discovery to the greater benefit of the UK. Overall, this award is excellent news for the life and physical sciences in the UK.”

The new NMR will facilitate new scientific activities to study protein structure and interactions of ever larger systems, as well as allosteric and conformational selection mechanisms in proteins and other biomolecules that involve low-populated, interconverting states.

These mechanisms are often essential for protein interactions and their understanding provides crucial information for structure-based drug discovery. The availability of advanced, state-of-the-art NMR equipment at a range of field strengths is essential for this work.


Notes to editors:

For more information contact Professor Geerten Vuister on

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. For more information visit

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.

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