Industry embraces new technique for rapid chemical composition analysis

Pioneering research in the School of Chemistry led to major developments in diffusion-ordered nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (DOSY), a technique which is now vital in industry for quick, in-depth analysis of complex chemical mixtures. Elements of Manchester’s DOSY methods and the research team’s data processing software are found in almost all commercial high-resolution NMR equipment worldwide.

Manufacturers of complex and fine chemical products, for example flavours, fragrances and pharmaceuticals, often use a method called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to analyse the molecular composition and structure (and hence properties) of their products.

NMR measures the magnetic response of atomic nuclei placed in a very strong magnetic field to radio waves, and requires complex and precisely-timed sequences of radiofrequency and magnetic field pulses.

Almost all high-resolution NMR equipment now incorporate the fruits of the Manchester group’s research.

Working initially with Pfizer Global Research, a team from The University of Manchester developed a family of pulse sequences and data processing methods for diffusion-ordered nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (DOSY), which allows chemical structure to be identified in intact mixtures. 

Many of their data processing methods are freely available in the DOSY Toolbox, open-source software which has so far been accessed by users from 68 countries.

Almost all high-resolution NMR systems worldwide now incorporate the fruits of the Manchester group’s research. For example, the Manchester team worked directly with the instrument manufacturer Agilent (then Varian) to design and develop bespoke software for its NMR spectrometers. Since its launch in 2009, the Agilent DOSY package has contributed to instrument sales of several tens of millions of dollars.

Givaudan used Manchester’s DOSY processing to discover a new flavouring ingredient which added £35 million to its global sales.

Industrial R&D teams have also benefited from the application of DOSY. The flavourings and fragrances manufacturer Givaudan used high resolution DOSY powered by the Manchester software to discover a new flavouring ingredient, leading to a sales growth of £35 million since 2008. Givaudan now analyses around 20% of all its samples using DOSY.

Indeed, chemical manufacturing companies around the world are now using DOSY for R&D and product control. For example, the multinational giant DuPont uses DOSY in around a third of all its formulation projects, while the agricultural science company Syngenta uses DOSY to optimise formulations of its plant protection products and reduce their environmental impact.

Key facts and figures:

New spectrometers

There are more than 80 NMR spectrometers using Manchester's DOSY software.

Used worldwide

The DOSY Toolbox is used in 68 different countries.

Generating sales

A new ingredient discovered using DOSY generated sales growth of £35M.

Research background

Different compounds give distinctive and unique signals when analysed by NMR, but when analysing mixtures it is essential to distinguish between signals from different molecules. One distinctive characteristic of a molecule that can be measured with NMR is its diffusion coefficient; this property is a function of a molecule’s size.

Researchers at The University of Manchester built upon previous work by Charles Johnson and others to produce distinct high resolution NMR spectra for all the chemical species in a sample, even those with very similar sizes. One major advance was the introduction of broadband homonuclear decoupling methods that increase the resolution of the technique by almost an order of magnitude. A second was the development of the ‘matrix-assisted DOSY’ method, which allows the signals of species of similar or identical size (e.g. isomers) to be separated, by exploiting different degrees of interaction with a slowly-diffusing component added to a mixture.

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