using higher-energy radiation (X-rays, electrons, etc.) in that they are largely nondestructive and can be performed under in vivo or in situ conditions, even with soft matter. However, these techniques lack the inherent spatial resolution of the higher-energy approaches.
Although similar in these respects, magnetic resonance and optical spectroscopy (electronic and vibrational spectroscopy) have different strengths and weaknesses. Magnetic resonance is the lowest-energy method and as such uses the longest-wavelength radiation. Exquisite detail in molecular structure can be defined due to the fact that atomic interactions can be measured. However, this detail about the atomic interactions is accompanied by a low inherent sensitivity, thus requiring extensive averaging over many molecules and limiting the inherent temporal and spatial resolution. In contrast, optical spectroscopy utilizes radiation at an energy level high enough to allow individual photons to be measured relatively easily with modern equipment at a detection sensitivity almost matched by the mammalian eye. As a result, imaging data are acquired at the sensitivity of individual molecules. The inherent temporal and spatial resolution is also increased proportionately, but the resonance itself is broad because environmental influences are not averaged out within the inherent time scale of interaction between the molecules and this frequency of radiation. As a result, the structural information content of optical spectra is considerably lower than that of magnetic resonance, particularly in the electronic region of the spectrum.
The long-term technical challenge is to extract the maximum possible information from each type of resonance, ultimately providing a detailed structural picture of the chemistry at the molecular level with the spatial resolution of individual molecules and a temporal resolution on the time scale of chemical bonding.
Over the past 50 years, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has grown into an essential tool for chemists in determining structures of newly synthesized compounds, for scientists interested in the structure of solids, and for biochemists in determining structure-function relationships in biomolecules. NMR also forms the basis for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The incredible breadth of NMR and its impact on chemical, biological, and medical sciences have created a vibrant and innovative community of scientists working to increase the scope and usefulness of NMR. Many books are dedicated to subsets of the techniques involved in NMR and MRI: thus, the goal here is to give a small taste of the types of information available and to point out areas in which progress would impact a large subset of NMR and MRI experiments. In addition, there is an equally rich field, which is not discussed explicitly, that applies electron spin resonance to many of the same problems to which NMR and MRI are applied.
Recent advances have pushed the limits of molecular structure determination, including applications of NMR to larger and larger molecules and new ways