Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You spin me right round baby.....

I saw this come up in the comments here, and figured that it would make for a cute post. I will start off with the mundane, though.

One is frequently asked to picture electromagnetic radiation as an oscillating wave, with the electric and magnetic fields orthogonal to one another as it propagates. This, I imagine, does not come as a surprise to anyone reading this.

As is propagated in the above link, the NMR experiment is presented as utilizing radiofrequency (RF) waves to tickle the nuclear spin magnetic moments. Of course, that leads to the question presented in that post – how does an RF wave (with a wavelength on the order of meters) get absorbed at the scale of a single nucleus? One might also ask an analogous question on the other end of the experiment when one is recording a signal on your nearest friendly NMR spectrometer.

Now, for two related things to think about –

The first is the oft-neglected sibling in the magnetic resonance community, electron magnetic resonance (EMR, also known as ESR or EPR depending on who you speak to). One of the fun little things that you can shovel a sample into is a flat sample cell. This is exactly what it sounds like – your sample is basically sandwiched between two planes of quartz. It is helpful since you can position your sample (typically aqueous in this case, as they’re notoriously lossy) at a point of maximum magnetic field (high B1) and minimal electric field (low E1), which keeps the resonator Q-factor high as well as keeping your sample from heating up, which can make for sad spectroscopic pandas.

The second is the development of so-called “Low-E” probes for the biological solid state NMR community. Given that they are not infrequently studying aqueous samples with some amount of salts (aka lossy as hell), and the traditional need for high power decoupling to get adequately resolved spectra, minimizing sample heating has been a major focus of effort within the community. The result here is a probe that minimizes heating from the electric field, actually using some insights from the EMR/EPR/ESR community.

Now, if we think about what’s going on here….they’re trying to minimize the influence of the electric field (E1) by either judicious sample placement or probe design. We know from basic electromagnetism that an EM wave is composed of both electric and magnetic field components. It would seem that the absorption of EM radiation in magnetic resonance is not necessary for a successful experiment. It would, in fact, appear to be the case that what is important is the magnetic field that is generated by an appropriate EM source (RF for NMR/MRI, microwave for EMR) for the magnetic resonance experiment. The electric field appears to simply be a source of woe and frustration.

Of course, as noted in the comments to the above link, this is not new thinking. Hoult and his collaborators have been working on this topic in various ways and manners for over two decades now. There’s also that fun paper by Hanson regarding the necessity of quantum mechanics for understanding magnetic resonance. And more recently, there’s been a rather lengthy (and somewhat dense – I have a copy printed out, haven’t had a chance to really dig into it just yet) article on virtual photons in magnetic resonance, following up on Hoult’s suggestion from a while back.

Alright, back to things....

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