History of the NMRDG

1964 – 2012


Towards the end of the Second World War, in the UK and the USA, there was a surge of interest in spectroscopic techniques due to the advent of new electronic radiation sensors. As a result of a strong desire to share experiences, several independent spectroscopic discussion groups were formed in the UK, including the Infrared Discussion Group (IRDG) and the Photoelectric Spectrometry Group. However, these were confined to optical spectroscopy and dealt mainly with analytical applications. The British Radiofrequency Spectroscopy Group held its first meeting at Bangor in September 1956

The first paper from the UK on magnetic resonance was in Nature by Bernard Rollin from The Clarendon laboratory, Oxford University as early as 1946. Rex Richards has acknowledged the help that he received there, and recently recalled that he built his first NMR spectrometer in 1949 and published his first NMR-based paper in 1951. By the mid-1950's, Rex Richards at Oxford, Raymond Andrew at Bangor and John Smith at Leeds had built NMR spectrometers, whilst the first ESR spectrometers in the UK were built by E. E. Schneider at Durham and David Ingram at Southampton. Jack Powles had returned from the USA in 1954 to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and there he built a wide line spectrometer .  He moved to Queen Mary College London in 1955 and later produced a series of important papers on the use of spin-echoes.  Subsequently, with his PhD student Peter Mansfield, a better spectrometer was constructed, and the details of this were published in 1963.

The first commercial NMR spectrometers came to Britain in 1957, these were three Varian 40 MHz instruments delivered to Norman Sheppard at Cambridge, Les Sutcliffe at Liverpool and to ICI Blackley (Manchester). Later, Rex Richards was involved in the development of a permanent-magnet Perkin-Elmer instrument. Mullard also made a number of prototype machines, one of which, operating at around 30 MHz for 1H observation, was delivered to Les Thomas at Birmingham University. AEI also produced NMR spectrometers providing systems sited at Aston University, the University of Durham and the University of East Anglia.  This latter spectrometer was a donation from Professor E.R.H. Jones of the Dyson Perrins Laboratory, Oxford University.  Ken Packer recalled that, although the electronics were basically sound in design, often it did not all work at the same time.  A Perkin-Elmer 40 MHz system was installed at UEA in 1964, having been transferred from the University of Cambridge where it had been commissioned and tested by Norman Sheppard and Eric Liddell in 1961. It was subsequently donated to the Science Museum in London. A 40 MHz Mullard was installed in Michael Dewar’s chemistry laboratory at QMC and operated by Tony Lucken (later Prof E.A.C. Lucken who later worked mainly on quadrupole resonance). It was inherited by Ed Randall when he arrived at QMC in 1961. Derry Jones reminded us that when he was at Leeds University, he discovered that Fairey Aviation also produced an NMR spectrometer operating at 19 Mc/s (MHz).  He obtained a quotation in March 1960 showing that it could be purchased, delivered and installed for £3520, but without a chart recorder.  The Fairey brochure quotes ‘This instrument has been designed to give a resolution of 1-2 parts in 10^7, sufficient to show most of the chemical shifts and spin splittings of high resolution N.M.R. spectroscopy. A feature of particular value to the analytical chemist is the unique continuous tuning system which allows different isotopes in the same sample to be studied without elaborate resetting procedures. Facilities are also provided for investigation of the solid state by wide line techniques and with suitable recording equipment quantitative determinations and analyses can also be carried out’.

Incidentally, commercial ESR spectrometers did not arrive in the UK until 1960 and the ESR Group was formed only in 1965 and was affiliated to the then Chemical Society (now the Royal Society of Chemistry).


Early days of NMR in the UK