NMR hardware and the New Electronics: a boat in a hurricane

by Stanislav Sykora (Extra Byte, Castano Primo, Italy)

delivered at 24th Valtice NMR,
Valtice, Czech Republic, April 26-29, 2009.

Presentation SLIDES ( PDF, 515 kB) NMR Articles and Posters
Please, e-mail me your comments and questions. I will collect them verbatim and answer the questions on this page.

Presentation Abstract

The advances in electronic devices had been so fast and so consistent during the last decade to leave all manufacturers of magnetic resonance hardware way behind, with even the most recent MR hardware grossly obsolete well before it is deployed. This applies to all Companies producing scientific instrumentation, but nowhere is the obsolescence of the current stock of products as evident as in NMR and MRI.

In particular, the new Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chips and the ultra-high capacity memories are completely changing the way electronics devices are being developed, produced and tested. The development of digital devices, including all logic and control circuits as well as RF synthesis, is today extremely similar to basic software development. It is based on sophisticated software tools, many of which did not exist even as concepts just ten years ago and which are today quite affordable (some are even offered free of charge by chip manufacturers under GNU licenses). There are also extensive software-like libraries of reusable, ready-to-use circuits which can be simply plugged into new FPGA hardware projects. These are called IP's (from Intellectual Property) or IP-cores and are also widely available on both commercial and GNU freeware basis.

As a result, the development cycles of even extremely complex electronic devices have dropped in the last few years from many man-years to a few man-months. With the new hardware and software it became possible for a single person to design in a reasonable time a complete modern broadband NMR console at an absolutely ridiculous cost.

What matters nowadays is only the electronic and NMR know-how of the developer(s); the capital resources and manpower requirements are within everybody's reach!

In addition to the ease with which old-fashioned instrumentation can be re-enacted in modern chips, time is now ripe for a revolution which will completely change scientific-instrumentation-as-we-know-it and make it much more accessible. I am talking about something as profound as was the extinction of mainframe computers in favor of the PC's, or the just as profound revolutions in electronic labs instrumentation and in process-control electronics which are currently underway.

The keywords of the gathering revolution are virtualization (no more front panels) , extensive modularity (reuse the same hardware for various virtual instruments), run-time programmability (define a task and let the system generate on the fly whatever hardware is needed to carry it out), remote acquisition (early digitization) , remote control (no more cables), massive use of memory (store everything, decide later what to do with it), and low cost.

Remember two things: (i) there is more electronics in any modern mobile phone than in any NMR console and (ii) when you buy a mobile, you pay for the marketing costs - development and production affect the price by just a small percentage.

Stan Sykora's Publications, Posters and Courses & Talks Stan's Library | Stan's HUB
Copyright ©2009 Stanislav Sýkora    DOI: 10.3247/SL3Nmr09.006 Page design by Stan Sýkora