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6.7: General Characteristics of ¹³C NMR Spectroscopy

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  • Most of what we have learned about 1H-NMR spectroscopy also applies to 13C-NMR, although there are several important differences.

    Signal strength in 13C-NMR spectroscopy

    The 12C isotope of carbon - which accounts for more than 98% of the carbons in organic molecules - does not have a nuclear magnetic moment, and thus is NMR-inactive. Fortunately for organic chemists, however, the 13C isotope, which accounts for 1.1% of the remaining carbon atoms in nature, has a magnetic moment just like protons.

    The magnetic moment of a 13C nucleus is much weaker than that of a proton, meaning that NMR signals from 13C nuclei are inherently much weaker than proton signals. This, combined with the low natural abundance of 13C, means that it is much more difficult to observe carbon signals and there is a much lower signal-to-noise ratio than in 1H NMR. Therefore, more concentrated samples are required to generate a useful spectrum, and often the data from hundreds of scans must be averaged in order to bring the signal-to-noise ratio down to acceptable levels. This type of signal averaging works since background noise in a spectrum is typically random while the signal caused by the 13C nuclei is not. Therefore if the spectra from multiple scans is averaged, the noise gets closer to 0 while the signal stays the same, increasing the signal-to-noise ratio.

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