We received our picoSpin 45 MHz NMR last week. It’s the size of a toaster and sits on the benchtop next to the computer. We brought in a bunch of chemists to see a demonstration. Most of them were fresh PhD’s on their first job out of grad school. I think they were non-plussed. What on God’s green earth would someone accustomed to using 300-500 MHz NMR want with a low field FT instrument like this?

Let me say that I am a fan of this thing and the company. Yes, it is retro in some ways. It lacks the sensitivity and features many of us are used to. However, it is an FT instrument and can be used to examine a great many substances. In a high field instrument, it seems like everything  is a doublet of doublets. Not in this instrument. For routine analysis of reaction completion, for instance, you may already know the spectrum of your product or starting materials. One or two reasonably isolated diagnostic peaks is all you need to gauge the state of your reaction. You almost never need coupling constants and fancy 2-D spectra at this point. Often, high resolution amounts to excess capacity. And you can have picoSpin in the lab with you. No need to trudge to the NMR room for a routine spectrum. Oh yes, it’s $20,000 for the unit.

We have a high field instrument, but not at my location. Between the GCMS and the picoSpin, I have a good bit of analytical capability.  What I like about this is that the picoSpin offers a lot of analysis per dollar. Of course a high field instrument offers superior capability. But the fact is that most instrumentation on the market today provides considerable excess capacity. For instance, how much of the capability of Microsoft Excel or Word do you actually use? Perhaps 10 %?  I’d offer that a large fraction of the total dollar amount spent on scientific instrumentation worldwide amounts to excess capacity.  People are easily dazzled by the possibilites in a list of features. Sales people know this and actually depend on it.

So, I’m exploring how this miniature marvel can be integrated into daily use in a chemical manufacturing plant. Chemists are a stubborn lot and it may be that I can’t crack this nut. We’ll see.

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