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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/C00664X/1
Title: Cryogenic magic-angle-spinning NMR
Principal Investigator: Levitt, Professor MH
Other Investigators:
Beduz, Professor C Henderson, Professor PJF Yang, Professor Y
Werner, Dr JM Grossel, Dr MC Horsewill, Professor AJ
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Dr M Carravetta Mr OG Johannessen Professor SG Patching
Project Partners:
Kyoto University Nat Inst of Chem Physics and Biophysics
Department: Sch of Chemistry
Organisation: University of Southampton
Scheme: Standard Research (Pre-FEC)
Starts: 01 May 2005 Ends: 31 October 2009 Value (£): 2,882,477
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Chemical Synthetic Methodology Instrumentation Eng. & Dev.
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
Progress in the development of new medicines and materials requires knowledge of molecular structures, i.e. the precise arrangment of atoms within molecules. For example, if one knows the precise shape of a malfunctioning protein molecule, one can try to design other molecules which bind to it, so as to prevent it from doing too much damage. Scientists only have a few methods available for finding out about the structures of large molecules like proteins. The most successful method is X-ray crystallography. However, this powerful method requires crystals, which are difficult to produce for many very important biomolecules, especially the type of receptor proteins which sit inside cell membranes ( membrane proteins ). Another promising method is called solid-state NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance), which uses the fact that many of the nuclei at the centres of hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen atoms are weakly magnetic, and behave as small bar magnets. In NMR, radiowaves are used together with a strong magnetic field to probe the interactions between these magnets, allowing one to build up a picture of the molecular structure. Solid-state NMR has been used to obtain structural information from large biomolecules such as membrane proteins, without the need to form crystals. Unfortunately, the NMR signals are very weak. Rather large amounts of sample are often required. This greatly limits the application of this method, since many of the most interesting and important molecules are only available in very small quantities. In this proposal we will design equipment to perform solid-state NMR at very low temperatures, approaching the boiling point of liquid Helium (4.2 Kelvin, or -269 degrees C). The NMR signal is much stronger at these temperatures. This will allow biologists and chemists to obtain the vital molecular structural information using at least 10 times less sample than was possible before. The project is technically demanding because one must not only keep the sample very cold, but also rotate it very rapidly at a certain angle to the applied magnetic field (this is called magic-angle-spinning, or MAS). This rapid sample rotation is necessary to obtain the most informative NMR signals. Cryogenic magic-angle-spinning NMR is a major technical challenge, and our project combines leading expertise in sample spinning, electronics and cryogenics, in order to overcome these difficulties. A further difficulty is that the NMR signal often takes a long time to build up at cryogenic temperatures. This is because molecular motion is needed to magnetize the atomic nuclei, and this molecular motion slows down a lot when the material is very cold. Another part of our project will address this problem by designing molecules which have very fast molecular motion, even at cryogenic temperatures. These molecules (called cryorelaxors) are able to speed up the build-up of the NMR signal on neighbouring molecules. In summary, we will combine leading expertise in mechanical and cryogenic engineering, electronics, spectroscopy, quantum theory, chemical synthesis, and molecular biology, to create a new technique for examining the molecular structures of important molecules in small amounts, without needing to grow crystals.
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Organisation Website: http://www.soton.ac.uk