January 16, 2014 - By Mark Dixon, Product Manager, Thermo Fisher Scientific, http://picospin.com/blog/the-a-ha-moment/

The ‘A-Ha’ Moment

'I distinctly remember the day I peered in at the grainy video on my Mac as Steve Jobs stood up on stage in January 2007 and held up the prototype iPhone to the world. I had been considering getting one of these new “smart-phone” gadgets for a couple of years but the offerings at the time were essentially made from pitiful computing capabilities shoe-horned on top of phone hardware, and the user experience was woeful to say the least (I’m looking at you Blackberry!). A soon as the iPhone was revealed, a capable pocket computer with phone hardware integrated into it, I had one of those ‘A-ha!’ moments. This was the future, and I queued around the block in Palo Alto to get one when it first arrived six months later.

Skip forward four years to the 2011 ENC conference at Asilomar, California. I was working for Varian and we had one of the two largest vendor booths, feeling pretty good about ourselves that we were one of the two “big boys” in the playground, and who could possibly come and upset the apple cart anyways? In the vendor exhibit area there was a commotion brewing, some might say a kerfuffle. So I took a stroll out to find a scrum of people stood around a small table, maybe three people deep. Often-times at the ENC, vendors would grab a PR opportunity to give away free stuff and so I assumed it was just this. I took a peek over the shoulders of the throng to see a small “shoe-box” sat on the table and some printed spectra that quite obviously represented easily interpreted small organic molecules as the peaks were all resolved and sharp. I nudged the guy next to me and asked him what it was, to which he replied, “An NMR spectrometer”. “So where’s the magnet?”, I replied, “Under the table? Or maybe they couldn’t bring it to the show due to its weight?”. “Nope, that’s the whole thing right there”.

And indeed there it was, a fully-formed high-resolution NMR spectrometer in a shoe-box sized container, like it had materialized from outer-space or something. I looked at the spectra and I looked back at the spectrometer and could not believe what I was seeing. I remember distinctly feeling the same tingle in my bones that I got when Steve Jobs stood on stage and changed the future. Suddenly, my eyes were opened to the possibility that all those scientists that came sniffing around the Varian, JEOL,or Bruker booths with doleful eyes and a resigned stoop to their gait, all of whom could never hope to afford to buy NMR equipment for their small college or fledgling company but absolutely needed the technology to get the job done, these folks would at some point very soon be able to become members of what had previously been an exclusive club. And more importantly, take full advantage of the insight that NMR brings to molecular structure and analysis, all without breaking the bank. Added to that, there were the first rumors swirling that the world’s liquid helium supply was “drying up” and people were starting to get antsy about the cost of ownership of NMR technology, never mind cost of entry.

In two short years the bench-top NMR market has bloomed, a healthy state of affairs in my opinion as it means progress will be rapid, and all to the good of the customer. I’m not old enough to remember the heady days of the early seventies when the first mass-market superconducting magnets changed the game in chemistry labs all over the world, but I get the feeling that we are about to enter another era of pioneering and frontier-smashing. The democratization of NMR has begun.'