Use of 1 H NMR to study transport processes in porous biosystems

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The operation of bioreactors and the metabolism of microorganisms in biofilms or soil/sediment systems are strongly dictated by the transport processes therein. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allow nondestructive and noninvasive quantification and visualisation (in case of MRI) of both static and dynamic water transport phenomena. Flow, mass transfer and transport processes can be measured by mapping the (proton) displacement in a defined time interval directly in a so-called pulsed field gradient (PFG) experiment. Other methods follow the local intensity in time-controlled sequential images of water or labelled molecules, or map the effect of contrast agents. Combining transport measurements with relaxation-time information allows the discrimination of transport processes in different environments or of different fluids, even within a single picture element in an image of the porous biosystem under study. By proper choice of the applied NMR method, a time window ranging from milliseconds to weeks (or longer) can be covered. In this paper, we present an overview of the principles of NMR and MRI techniques to visualise and unravel complex, heterogeneous transport processes in porous biological systems. Applications and limitations will be discussed, based on results obtained in (model) biofilms, bioreactors, microbial mats and sediments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-52
JournalJournal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Biofilms
  • Bioreactors
  • Diffusion
  • Dispersive flow
  • Magnetic resonance microscopy
  • Porous media
  • Sludge
  • Soils
  • Transport processes


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