NMR Centre lab

Image of the MRC Biomedical Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Centre.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) Biomedical NMR Centre provides nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy facilities to researchers across the UK. The Centre was established in 1980 at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research and moved to the Crick in 2016.

NMR is a very diverse technique, used in many different branches of science. Our activities at the Crick focus on two areas: the investigation of the shape, flexibility and interactions of large biological molecules such as proteins, and the analysis of complex mixtures of metabolites – identifying the constituents and the quantities in which they are present.

NMR uses powerful magnets to reveal atomic-level information about molecules. We typically detect NMR signals arising from the nuclei of hydrogen atoms. The magnetic properties of a hydrogen atom in a molecule are affected by other nearby atoms, so the frequency of the NMR signal depends on the atom’s position in the molecule. The combination of the signals from all of the hydrogen atoms makes up the NMR spectrum.

In a complex molecule like a protein there may be many hundred or even thousands of hydrogen atoms, and other atoms, such as carbon-13 and nitrogen-15, also give NMR spectra. This means that we have a very large number of ‘reporters’ giving us a wealth of information about the molecule they are in. The insight that follows might, for example, improve understanding of basic biological processes, or it might feed into the development of novel therapeutic molecules. Changes in metabolite levels can be indicative of disease states.

Our facility has five spectrometers, with a range of magnetic field strengths corresponding to operating frequencies of 600 MHz to 950 MHz. The higher frequency instruments are more sensitive and provide better resolution. Our 950 MHz spectrometer was the result of substantial investment by the MRC and is one of only a few such instruments in the UK.

Scientists from across the country can apply for access to our spectrometers, including internal users here at the Crick. For further information about our equipment and access process please see the dedicated MRC Biomedical NMR Centre website.