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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Optimizing the Signal-to-Noise-Ratio with Spin-Noise Probe Tuning

We have all been taught to tune our NMR probes to maximize the pulse power delivered to our sample (or minimize the reflected power back to the amplifier).  This prevents damage to the amplifiers and minimizes the duration of 90° pulses at fixed power levels.  This is typically done with the spectrometer hardware (eg, "atmm" or "wobb" on a Bruker spectrometer), with a sweep generator and oscilloscope or a dedicated tuning device.  Tuning a probe in this way optimizes the transmission of rf to the sample, however, the NMR probe must also detect signals from the sample to be amplified and sent to the receiver.  The "receive" function uses a different electronic path compared to the "transmit" function.  Since the electronic paths for the "transmit" and "receive" functions are completely different, they are expected to have different tuning characteristics.  A probe optimized to transmit rf to the sample is not necessarily optimized to receive the rf NMR signal from the sample.  As a result, one may not be getting the optimum signal-to-noise-ratio with a probe tuned and matched in the conventional manner.  The question then arises as to how can we tune an NMR probe optimized to detect and receive the NMR signals from the sample.  This can be done by measuring a spin noise spectrum of the sample - using no rf pulses whatsoever.  It has been shown1 that a probe is optimized to detect and receive the NMR signals when one observes an inverted spin noise NMR signal from the sample.  Since the spin noise signal is measured without any pulses from the "transmit" function of the spectrometer, it depends only on the electronic path of the "receive" function. To tune a probe for optimum "receive" function, one must adjust the tuning frequency and matching of the probe followed by the measurement of a spin noise spectrum until an inverted spin noise signal is observed.   The figure below illustrates an example of this using a 2 mM sucrose solution in 90% H2O/10% D2O.
The proton channel of a 600 MHz cryoprobe on a Bruker AVANCE III HD NMR spectrometer was tuned and matched at 10 different frequencies using the "atmm" function of the spectrometer.  The tuning offset frequencies were measured using the "wobb" display of the spectrometer.  For each tuning offset frequency, a spin noise spectrum of water was measured using 64 power spectra collected in a a pseudo 2D scheme and summed to produce the spin noise spectrum displayed.  The spin noise spectrum for the probe optimized for the "transmit" function is highlighted in pink and the spin noise spectrum for the probe optimized for the "receive" function is highlighted in yellow.  For every tuning offset frequency, the 90° pulse was measured with the "pulsecal" routine of the spectrometer which uses this method.  As expected, the minimum 90° pulse is obtained for the probe tuned to optimize the "transmit" function.  With all pulses optimized, a 1H spectrum of the sample for each tuning offset frequency was measured using excitation sculpting as a means of solvent suppression (pulprog= zgesgp).  The sucrose signal at ~ 3.9 ppm is displayed in the figure.  The maximum signal intensity (highlighted in yellow) is obtained at a tuning offset frequency of -695 kHz corresponding closely to where the spin noise spectrum is inverted (-895 kHz).  The noise levels in the spectra were found to vary somewhat at higher tuning offset frequencies.  As a result, the maximum signal-to-noise-ratio (highlighted in yellow) was observed at a tuning offset frequency of -488 kHz.  This represents a 21% improvement in the signal-to-noise-ratio compared to that observed for a probe tuned in the conventional manner (highlighted in pink).  The degree of solvent suppression using excitation sculpting was also found to deteriorate at higher tuning offset frequencies.  In conclusion, one can obtain spectra with higher signal-to-noise-ratios by using a tuning offset frequency other than zero.  One expects the specific optimum tuning offset frequency to be probe, instrument and sample dependent.  This phenomenon is described much more elegantly in the reference below.

1.  M. Nausner, J. Schlagnitweit, V. Smrecki, X. Yang, A. Jerschow, N. Müller.  J. Mag. Res. 198, 73 (2009).

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