The full professor of Inorganic Chemistry EugenioCoronado, director of the Institute of Molecular Science (ICMol) at the University of Valencia, is part of the European consortium that has just obtained a Pathfinder grant from the European Innovation Council (EIC) for highly disruptive excellent science projects. The consortium has received 3 million euros to develop an NMR technique to visualise the chemical structure of a single molecule, dramatically increasing the sensitivity of current technology.

Nanotechnology is a key area to face universal challenges in health, energy, environment and information technology. Its advances largely depend on the development of new technologies that make it possible to visualise and manipulate matter at the nanometre scale, where one nanometre (1 nm) is equal to one billionth of a metre (10-9 m). Molecules have these dimensions.

Currently there are microscopes that allow this ultra-high resolution to be achieved, such as the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) or the atomic force microscope (AFM), but these provide very limited information about the chemical composition of molecules. And although Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) does provide this information, in commercial equipment this technique only works with samples made up of billions of molecules, which is a limitation of this already advanced diagnostic test.

The new technology to be developed with European Pathfinder support is called 4D-NMR and aims to develop an NMR technique that, by combining both technologies, allows a spatial image of the chemical structure of a single molecule to be obtained. This will dramatically increase the sensitivity of NMR, wich will go from requiring billions of molecules to needing just one to obtain a much higher resolution image, while providing the invaluable information that this technique provides on the chemical composition of matter on the nanometre scale.

Nano-NMR will thus offer the possibility to studying, with unprecedented resolution, problems of interest in biochemistry -protein structure and dynamics- materials science -materials for quantum and information technologies- and chemical reactivity - CO2 reduction, electrochemical decomposition of water to obtain hydrogen, for example. The future 4D-NMR will not only open up fundamental new scientific perspectives, but will also have a strong impact on the current markets for MRI and scanning tunneling microscopes.

For this project funded with three million euros, Coronado’s group at the ICMol forms a consortium with teams from the Universität Linz (Austria), the University of Oxford (United Kingdom), the Ben-Gurion-University of the Negev (Israel) and the company Gruppo Tecniche Avanzate s.a.s. (Italy).

The Pathfinder program – heir to the H2020 Open FETs – supports the exploration of high-risk, disruptive ideas and cutting-edge, high-risk scientific collaborations that underpin technological advances. With them, the European Research Council supports innovative groups, companies, and researchers, through collaborative projects with the potential to develop emerging technologies.