About the Instrument:
This purchase came about because the group had a sabbatical visitor who was an expert in spin exchange hyperpolarisation –Thomas Meersman from Colorado State University. “I knew this man was coming.” Paul said, “It was the one opportunity we had in a lifetime of getting into this game. He said he would build it if we got the pieces so it was a very cheap way of doing it.” The MacDiarmid Institute funding allowed the group to seize the opportunity. They bought the pieces in time for Thomas to construct the instrument – a complex configuration of optical components, lasers and spectrometers. Hyperpolarisation is a method of polarising a gas so that you can use it for NMR measurements. A high-powered laser sets the electrons in a cell of rubidium vapour spinning and this ‘spin’ is transferred to another gas, xenon, which is used for NMR. For safety reasons the instrument will be housed in its own lab in the new MacDiarmid Research building at Victoria University.
“There are only a handful of groups around the world working in this area,” says Paul, and no commercially available instruments. Purchasing the equipment at this early stage gives the team the opportunity to develop niche expertise. “The idea,” he says, “is that it relates to our porous media research. It will enable us to pump gases through porous media and look at the interaction of the gas molecules with the solid and the exchange of gas between pores and so forth.” Traditionally NMR diffusion measurements are done using liquids, which flow more slowly and are more ‘sticky’ than gases. Using gases instead will allow researchers to study flow through smaller, nano-porous structures. In the future the technique may also lead to medical applications such as studying the flow of gas through a person’s lungs as they breathe, which definitely can’t be done with liquid!
The Hyperpolarisation Instrument is not intended for outside users but it is likely to spur new collaborations. “The only way we can get effective use out of it,” Paul says, “is by collaborating with people who work in this area. It will probably bring Thomas Meersman back to New Zealand and enable other researchers to work with us.” Without the MacDiarmid funding the group wouldn’t have even thought of getting this equipment. It adds an element of flair to its suite of equipment and is already drawing researchers from overseas. It’s also an incentive for local students to stay in NZ.