Magnetism that is sure to get your pulse racing

Spin Dynamics
February 22, 2002

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is a fascinating subject that is in rapid expansion. But to write a textbook about it is far from easy since difficult choices have to be made, in part dependent on the target readership.

There are probably three main types of reader interested in NMR: physicists, biomedical researchers including clinicians, and physical chemists. Malcolm Levitt has clearly targeted physical chemists. He is professor of physical chemistry at Southampton University with an excellent background in NMR. He studied and published with the chemistry Nobel laureate, Richard Ernst.

A related question in presenting NMR is the extent to which the quantum-mechanical aspects are included, or whether a classical-mechanical approach, which describes NMR in terms of spinning tops and so on, is used; the latter, while obviously a gross oversimplification, does not frighten off students weak in physics and mathematics. Levitt has gone for a quantum-mechanical approach, though his treatment is much more straightforward than some textbooks in the field (for example Anatole Abragam's notoriously difficult Principles of Magnetic Resonance ), although it is probably still quite tough for third-year chemistry undergraduates. But there is help at hand in the form of copious diagrams and beautiful illustrations that are available for downloading via a website (not mentioned in the book but easily traced via the Levitt homepage). This site includes a small list of errata in the book, which seems to have been very carefully written and proofread.

A second difficult choice is how to limit the scope of the text. In this book, the area of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and in vivo spectroscopy is largely missing. While there are a few representative medical images, the book is not appropriate for an audience interested in this topic. And while some important pulse sequences are presented (COSY, NOESY, ROESY, TOCSY), the book is not aimed at the reader interested in instrumentation as such.

It is primarily about NMR spectroscopy and spin systems, in so far as they provide methods for investigating molecules (including proteins), primarily in the liquid phase. The author notes that he has been obliged to omit most of his personal interest in solid-phase NMR. The order of presentation of topics is also somewhat odd. A discussion of relaxation and the Bloch equations is introduced very late.

The terminology and notation used are somewhat specific to the physical chemistry literature, but great care has been taken to make them consistent. Only a rather limited but well-selected choice of references, termed "further reading", is included, for which the author makes his reasons plain. The writing style is clear and often entertaining. Overall, for the right, highly targeted readership, this is an excellent textbook.

Andrew Todd-Pokropek is professor of medical physics, University College London.

Spin Dynamics: Basics of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance

Author - Malcolm H. Levitt
ISBN - 0 471 48921 2 and 48922 0
Publisher - Wiley
Price - £80.00 and £34.95
Pages - 686

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