Agilent Technologies made a rather disturbing announcement yesterday stating that they are going to shut down their NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) division at the end of this month. Agilent acquired NMR capabilities through its purchase of Varian Technologies in 2010. Varian was one of the pioneers in the production of NMR instruments, and as an American company, played a large role in getting them into almost all chemical instrumentation labs across the US. Varian produced the first commercial CW NMR instruments in the 50’s, and in the 60’s/70’s, introduced the first commerical FT-NMR instruments to the market. It should also be noted that Richard R. Ernst recieved the Nobel Prize in 1991 for work he did at Varian toward the development of FT-NMR and multidimensional NMR techniques.
There are other manufacturers of NMR instruments, such as Bruker (Europe) and JEOL (Japan). However, Varian, being an American company, has >95% market share in the US (my estimate). A major concern on most of our minds is the servicing and maintenance of these instruments. NMRs are notoriously finicky, and if Agilent is no longer producing them, then replacement parts are going to be difficult to come by. Agilent did mention they will meet “ongoing support contracts” and that they “will continue to provide service on all installed NMR systems”; but who knows how long this will last?
Within the last 2 years, benchtop miniaturized NMRs have become commercially available. However, these are still not as useful as full-size NMRs, as they usually only operate at low field strengths, so only 30-75 MHz (1H frequency) is available right now. Also, many of these instruments cannot do mutinuclear or multidimensional NMR, which is something very routine on regular instruments. The shutdown by Agilent therefore leaves a hole in the NMR market, but this is allegedly not very big or very profitable.
It is very sad to hear about this, as it is particularly symbolic of what is wrong with the current American business model of acquisitions and mergers. A successful R+D unit, along with many talented, exceptional scientists and engineers, gets shut down due to insufficient profit margins. I hope the ex-Varian employees will be OK, and hope that they will be able to successfully get back on their feet setting up independent servicing outfits for the various NMR instruments across the country. My sincere best wishes are with all of them.