After 1H, 13C is easily the next most important nuclide in the NMR periodic table; 13C measurements can provide a wealth of valuable structural info. Unfortunately, with a receptivity that is around 5,500 smaller than that of 1H, 13C is a much less sensitive nuclide. This lower sensitivity demands the maximum performance from the NMR spectrometer to keep the measurement times and sample concentration within practical limits. Since 13C NMR has the reputation to be challenging even for high field spectrometers, people tend to think that only overnight experiments can be performed on bench top systems. In the first example below we want to show you that even at frequencies like 43, 60 or 80 MHz high quality 13C spectra can be acquired in a single scan. If your goal is to teach the principles of 13C NMR to students, it is worth knowing that good 13C NMR spectra can be acquired on concentrated organic liquid samples in just under a minute. Moreover students can collect a whole set of powerful multidimensional heteronuclear experiments in well under an hour. The spectrum below of neat propylbenzoate could serve as a useful example for teaching 13C NMR in an educational environment.
Figure1: 1D 13C NMR spectra of neat Propylbenzoate acquired with a single scan (blue), 4 scans (green) and 16 (red) scans totalling 5, 20 and 80 seconds of acquisition time respectively.
In my recent posts on evaluating benchtop NMR system performance, I discussed the fundamental role the static (B0) magnetic field homogeneity plays in defining the lineshape and with it the resolution performance of the instrument. However, the quality of the magnetic field affects much more than just the instrument’s lineshape and resolution: since broadening of the lines due to B0 inhomogeneity causes them to be lower in amplitude, the quality of the field also directly affects the instrument’s sensitivity. In this post I explore the concept of instrument sensitivity in more detail and look at how to measure 1H sensitivity.
In this post, I’m going to discuss a specific test for evaluating the resolution or lineshape of a benchtop NMR system. This test is measured on proton (1H) as the NMR spectrum is sensitive to the spectrometer resolution and we can make the measurement with a single scan. Resolution and lineshape refer to the width of a particular NMR spectral line, measured at 50% and 0.55% of the height of the line, as explained below. The smaller the linewidth value, the better the resolution.
1H lineshape and resolution
The information content of any NMR spectrum depends on the ability to observe and resolve different signals, or peaks, in the spectrum. It is easier to distinguish two sharp (narrow) peaks close together, than two broad peaks. The key technical factor defining the sharpness of the lines in the spectrum (the lineshape) is the homogeneity of the magnetic field generated by the magnet. Although NMR systems utilize an array of coils (“shims”) to further improve the B0 homogeneity, the achievable lineshape and resolution are strongly influenced by the inhomogeneity of the magnet itself. The process of calibrating the field and optimizing the B0 homogeneity is usually referred to as shimming. The homogeneity and resolution will gradually degrade over time, so you should carry out the shimming procedure whenever you want to ensure you have the best resolution your spectrometer is capable of. You should also do the shimming procedure immediately before making the linewidth test described here.
Measuring 1H lineshape and resolution
The way to measure instrument resolution is to collect a spectrum containing a naturally sharp line. The standard approach for is to use a sample containing chloroform in acetone-d6 – the chloroform signal from this sample has a very narrow natural linewidth.1 Figure 1 shows a 1H NMR spectrum sample of a 20% chloroform in acetone-d6 NMR reference sample collected on an 80 MHz benchtop NMR spectrometer. (https://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/sial/611859)
Figure 1. 80 MHz 1H NMR spectrum of 20% chloroform in acetone-d6 (“lineshape”) sample
When evaluating a benchtop NMR instrument there are several key performance characteristics that have a very significant impact on how the instrument will perform in your lab. These key performance characteristics are:
The spectral resolution, which is directly related to the magnet and determines the width or shape of the NMR lines (often called lineshape), and in turn the ability to separate signals in the spectrum
The sensitivity which determines the limits of detection (LOD) and quantitation (LOQ), and in turn how long sample measurements take
The stability of the magnet and instrument over time, which impacts the ability to make longer measurements, and the overall ease of use of the spectrometer
Before I examine these performance characteristics in more detail, it’s worth emphasising from the outset that the biggest aspect of a benchtop NMR system’s design that dictates how well the system performs is the “quality” of the magnetic field produced by the magnet. By “quality” we are referring to how uniform the magnetic field is over the sample volume, often referred to as the B0 homogeneity. To illustrate the importance of this key aspect of magnet design, Figure 1 shows a series of spectra collected under varying degrees of B0 homogeneity.
Figure 1. Effect of static magnetic field (B0) homogeneity on the NMR spectrum. As the homogeneity gets worse, both the resolution and sensitivity are negatively affected. The series of spectra on the left are shown at the same scale and show how the 2 peaks can no longer be resolved, and the signal intensity decreases. The series on the right is the same spectra shown with the peak intensities normalised which how the signal-to-noise ratio is decreasing (the noise is increasing) when the field is less homogeneous.
The group of Professor Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow has combined machine learning with a chemical reaction system to speed up the discovery of new chemical reactions, which is an inherently unpredictable and time consuming process. This new approach of an Organic Synthesis Robot uses a Spinsolve Benchtop NMR spectrometer as an integral component. Their work has just been published in the prestigious journal Nature: J. M. Granda, L. Donina, V. Dragone, D.-L. Long and L. Cronin, Nature559, 377–381 (2018), DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0307-8
Photograph of the chemical robot
The photo shows the impressive setup of the chemical robot with 27 pumps, valves and six reactors, as well as NMR, IR and MS spectrometers for real-time analytics.
In my first two posts on using 1D and 2D NMR methods to assign the peaks of quinine (Figure 1), I looked at the 1H and 13C spectra.
Figure 1. Structure of quinine
In this post, I’m moving on to look at the 1H-13C HSQC spectrum. It’s worth spending a brief moment recapping what HSQC is all about and what info it gives you. In a nutshell, the HSQC experiment correlates proton and carbon chemical shifts over one chemical bond. Another way to put this is that a cross-peak in an HSQC spectrum says, “The proton with this chemical shift is directly attached to the carbon with that chemical shift”. By convention, HSQC spectra are presented with 1H shifts along the horizontal axis and 13C shifts along the vertical axis.
Some variants of HSQC also encode into the phases of the cross-peaks additional information about how many hydrogen atoms are attached to each carbon atom. This is sometimes referred to as multiplicity or DEPT editing. In the multiplicity-edited HSQC spectrum, it is conventional for the CH and CH3 groups to have positive phase, and the CH2 groups to have negative phase, just as in a DEPT-135 spectrum. Figure 2 shows the multiplicity-edited HSQC (“HSQC-ME”) spectrum of our 400 mM quinine sample. The CH2 signals are shown in blue and the CH and CH3 signals in red.