Major investment 'game changer' for Heriot-Watt scientists



Researchers at Heriot-Watt University are to gain a greater insight into molecular science thanks to a £1.4 million investment.

The grant allows for the upgrade of existing instrumentation, housed within a newly established research centre at the University of Edinburgh. This includes improvement works to Scotland's most powerful spectrometer, which is capable of studying materials at a molecular level through a technique called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR).  It works by generating a powerful magnetic field capable of exciting atomic nuclei found within solids and solutions, giving a detailed breakdown of their molecular construction.

We already had a very strong NMR research community in Scotland but we are now in a position to do so much more.

Dr David Ellis, Scientific Officer at Heriot-Watt University

The new centre, called the Scottish High Field NMR Centre, is based at the University of Edinburgh's School of Chemistry and provides a focal point for NMR research and industry engagement. It brings together researchers from the universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt as well as from the Beatson CRUK Institute in Glasgow.

The Centre also develops on the existing Scottish NMR Users Group network and draws on support from the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance (SULSA) and ScotCHEM.

Professor Kenneth G McKendrick, Head of the Institute of Chemical Sciences at Heriot-Watt, said: “This development offers a real step-change in the NMR capabilities available to a range of researchers in the chemical and life sciences at Heriot-Watt. It is an excellent example of what can be achieved through working collectively with partner institutions through the ScotCHEM and SULSA pooling initiatives.”

The announcement was made as part of a £20m UK-wide investment in NMR infrastructure by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Medical Research Council and Natural Environment Research Council also contributed to the funding.

NMR research is a state-of-the-art technique used in a variety of sectors including pharmaceutical and industrial chemistry. Its capabilities, however, are now being realised by the food and drink sector with with some company interest in using the science to determine the authenticity of their products.

Dr David Ellis, a Scientific Officer at Heriot-Watt University, responsible for the local NMR operation, said: “The opportunities that are now available as a result of this upgrade are truly fantastic.

“We already had a very strong NMR research community in Scotland but we are now in a position to do so much more.

“It really is a game-changer for scientists at Heriot-Watt and other universities around the country who can now access this new national resource.”