Alex Pines at the Pines Magnetic Resonance Center
Alex Pines, Glenn T. Seaborg Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, has had a remarkable career as a groundbreaking researcher and beloved teacher. Pines is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society; holds honorary degrees from the Universities of Rome, Paris, Marseilles, Amritsar, and the Weizmann Institute of Science; and his many awards include the Wolf Prize in Chemistry. In his honor, the Pines Magnetic Resonance Center (PMRC) was launched on November 28, 2023, at a gathering for the Alexander Pines Endowed Lecture in Physical Chemistry, this year presented by Lyndon Emsley, professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. The new center advances Berkeley’s prominent position in the vital methodology of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).
“My vision for the PMRC was a center comprising three components,” says Pines. “First an analytical facility with technical staff and state of the art instrumentation for NMR characterization of molecular identity, structure, dynamics, and function. Second, a core program involving faculty and groups working in basic NMR research and development which can further enhance the capabilities of the analytical facility. And third, an educational outreach effort for the college of chemistry, the university, and beyond.”
Pines has a magnetic personality and a resonant voice — you might say that he is a bit like NMR, if you are inclined to take a poetic leap. NMR is a technique that uses magnetic fields and electromagnetic frequencies to study molecular structures. The nuclear in NMR refers to the nuclei of certain atoms, which have a property called spin, meaning they behave like tiny magnets and can thus be studied in the context of other, stronger magnetic fields. The frequencies (the resonance part) that the molecules emit as they are manipulated are as distinctive as a fingerprint. NMR is a non-invasive technology that has an extraordinary range of applications — in physics, chemistry, materials science, and biomedicine, with direct implications for its perhaps more widely known related technology, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
“Magnetic resonance has transformed the chemical sciences by providing new insights into electronic, dynamical, structural, and transport properties of chemicals, materials, and systems,” says Dean of Chemistry Doug Clark. “The College of Chemistry’s first combined liquids, solids, and imaging NMR instrument, inaugurated in 2022, is now booked 24/7 for researchers throughout the campus. The Pines Magnetic Resonance Center will expand upon that first instrument with modern instruments for advanced questions in the chemical sciences and new instruments that will increase the sensitivity of NMR by many orders of magnitude, thereby expanding the applications of NMR in fields ranging from quantum information processing to biomolecular engineering and nanoscience.”