NMR in XXI Century: 30 selected things to do and explore

TALK by Stanislav Sykora, Extra Byte, Italy

presented at MMCE 2017, Magnetic Moments in Central Europe, Budapest (Hungary), 8-12 Mar 2017.

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Permalink of this document: DOI 10.3247/SL6Nmr17.001.

Please, cite this online document as:
Sykora S., NMR in XXI Century, MMCE 2017, Budapest (Hungary), 8-12 Sep 2017, DOI: 10.3247/SL6Nmr17.001.


At a recent meeting (MRPM 13, in Bologna) I have presented a talk which elicited a broad range of comments, from those calling it inappropriate, to those in full agreement. The reason was that I have voiced a concern about MR having all but lost, in the last two decades, its innovative momentum. This, in my opinion, is due to two deleterious trends:

1. NMR technologists are few and many tend to stuck to antiquated solutions, not taking full advantage of the rapid progress in electronics (digital and RF circuitry, communications, computers). There is recently little research in basic NMR technology (just circuits migration from boards into FPGA's), as well as scarce attention to MR phenomena from physicists.

2. In the history of MR there were only two primary, killer applications - molecular analysis and MRI - and almost all recent 'novel' applications can be viewed as branches of those two. As we know, the space of potential MR applications is large but, with few primary applications, it is getting saturated. There are also very few applications that get developed to the point where they can hold their own in competitive markets outside the academy.

The two trends reinforce each other: mature applications are getting along with mature (= oldish) technologies, while the lack of truly novel applications means that there is insufficient market pressure on technologists to come up with new solutions, and on physicists to search for new phenomena. Vice versa, saturated markets and old technologies incur high equipment costs. While all other technical equipment (particularly that of electronic nature) keeps getting cheaper and simpler to use, MR technology continues to be in real terms as costly as 50 years ago, and as complicated as ever. Which, in turn, severely hinders the search for novel applications.

As I see it, we are stuck in this negative-feedback loop. If we want to see a renaissance in MR, we must snap out of it. Searching for new applications until a 'vein of gold' comes up is no doubt the most important thing to do. Among new MR Companies, those that will succeed will be the ones with a clear, viable application on which to focus (a single good one is enough).

Alas, as a physicist and a technologist, I can contribute best only on the technical side, even though I know that it is no longer the most important one. I will present 30 technical proposals that, in my opinion, are worth researching. I think that if enough of them went through, MR would change qualitatively. Not all of them are my own stuff. Some are in the air, just nobody seems to be pushing them in earnest. Some are ideas started by others and then abandoned for reasons unknown to me. And some are indeed mine, but I have insufficient resources - and probably not enough time left - to carry them through. Which is why I want to at least talk about them. Originally, the title of my talk was to be "What, for MR sake, would I do if I were 50 years younger?", which, maybe, matched better the intended spirit of the presentation.

Of course, there are many more ideas around than just thirty; I have some more myself, and you certainly have your own. Nor are the ones I selected necessarily the most viable ones among those that came to my mind. It is simply a list intended to stimulate research, not to guarantee solutions. In compiling it, I was inspired by the David Hilbert's 1900 presentation of 'his' 23 math problems. Those, too, were not all of his own doing, but binding them together, and explaining why he cherished them, he added an extra value.
I would love to do likewise.


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