Carnegie Mellon University

Josef Dadok in the National NMR Center in Czech Republic

May 01, 2013

National NMR Center in Czech Republic Named for Carnegie Mellon Emeritus Professor Josef Dadok

Dadok to be honored in Pittsburgh May 9 at the 2013 Pittsburgh Conference Lecture

By Jocelyn Duffy

PITTSBURGH— The Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC) in Brno, Czech Republic has named their national NMR center after Carnegie Mellon University Emeritus Professor of Chemistry Josef Dadok. The Josef Dadok National NMR Centre, one of the most advanced centers of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe, focuses on using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to study the atomic structure of biologically significant molecules. The Dadok National NMR Centre was dedicated in a ceremony held in Brno earlier this year.

Dadok will be celebrated in Pittsburgh at the 2013 Pittsburgh Conference Lecture on Thursday, May 9 at 6 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association. Dadok will give a lecture titled “My 50 Years in Scientific Instrumentation — Mostly NMR.”

Dadok is often referred to as the “founder of NMR in Czechoslovakia.” He built the country’s first NMR spectrometers in the 1950s and 60s, a time when only the United States and Japan were producing commercial NMR equipment. Before trade restrictions were lifted in the 1990s, Czechoslovakia was the leading producer of NMR equipment in Eastern Europe.

The CEITC and Masaryk University in Brno’s new national NMR center honors Dadok for his contributions to the development of NMR instrumentation techniques in both Czechoslovakia and the United States. Funded by the Central European Union, the Josef Dadok National NMR Centre is equipped with 5 modern high field NMR spectrometers that have operating frequencies of up to 950 MHz. The center will act in a manner similar to that of the Carnegie Mellon NMR facility, serving users from both inside and outside of the university. The center was formally named in a ceremony on Jan. 23 as part of a scientific NMR symposium with more than 150 international participants.


Born in 1926 in Czechoslovakia, Dadok earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1951 from the Brno University of Technology. After graduation, he briefly taught at the university but was forced to leave academia because he refused to join the communist party.

“They said I couldn’t teach the theory of electricity in the spirit of Marx and Lenin,” Dadok said. “So I was sent to industry as a punishment.”

In 1951, he became the head of the research and development group for TESLA-BRNO, a state-owned electro-technical company. Two years later, through the intervention of a former professor who also happened to be a general in the Czechoslovak army, Dadok returned to academia with a position in the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences’ (CAS) Institute for Scientific Instruments (ISI) in Brno. At ISI, he founded the department for radio frequency spectroscopy and became its head.

Building spectroscopy equipment in a communist country created problems for Dadok’s group. Unable to order parts from the United States because of a trade embargo, Dadok was forced to have them smuggled into Czechoslovakia from Sweden. He used the parts to create Czechoslovakia’s first microwave spectrometer for the 1.25 cm band. The machine was built for the CAS Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, but when they were unable to get the computer for data processing from the Soviet Union, the spectrometer was converted into an electron paramagnetic resonance spectrometer and sent to the Macromolecular Institute in Prague.

Dadok then chose to focus his career on NMR. From 1956 to 1967, Dadok and his colleagues built a series of high resolution NMR spectrometers operating at frequencies ranging between 30 and 80 MHz for use at academic institutions in Prague. This know-how was transferred to TESLA-BRNO, who became the supplier of NMR spectrometers for Eastern Europe.

At this time, researchers at companies like Varian in the United States were conducting NMR research using superconducting magnets. To learn about this new technology, Dadok tried to attend the Experimental NMR Conference (ENC), which was held regularly at the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research in Pittsburgh. He sent an abstract of a talk that focused on part of his doctoral thesis to the conference organizers, Aksel Bothner-By and Barry Shapiro. Impressed by Dadok’s abstract, Bothner-By and Shapiro invited Dadok to speak at the 6th ENC.  However, the Czech authorities refused to grant Dadok an exit visa. Not to be dissuaded, Dadok went to the president of the CAS, who also happened to be the director of the CAS’s Institute of Organic Chemistry – the institute that received the first NMR spectrometer built by Dadok’s group.

“We were always talking about catching up to the capitalists. I told them that we didn’t want to fall behind,” Dadok said. “Participation at a conference like ENC would bring the necessary knowledge that would allow us to keep up with the rest of the world’s progress.”

The CAS president arranged for Dadok to get the appropriate travel visas, and in 1966 Dadok presented his talk at the 7th ENC in Pittsburgh.

The next year, Bothner-By invited Dadok to return to the United States to become a visiting fellow at the NMR facility at Carnegie Mellon University, which was newly formed by a merger between the Mellon Institute and the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Bothner-By wanted Dadok to build a multinuclear NMR spectrometer using a superconducting magnet built by Westinghouse. Dadok began the fellowship in the fall of 1967. With the help of Richard Sprecher and Tom Link, he built a multi-nuclear NMR spectrometer using a superconducting 5.8 Tesla magnet. For a short time the 250 MHz spectrometer had the highest operating frequency in the world.

In January 1968, Alexander Dubček was elected the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and he enacted a series of democratic reforms that loosened speech and travel restrictions. During this time, called the Prague Spring, Dadok’s wife and two sons were able to visit the United States. While the family was traveling around the country, the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia, removing Dubček from power and stopping democratization of Czechoslovakia. The family chose to stay in the United States, and Dadok became a full-time fellow at Carnegie Mellon’s NMR facility.

Dadok and his collaborators continued to work on the 250 MHz spectrometer. In 1971 the Carnegie Mellon facility acquired a Xerox Sigma 5 minicomputer. Dadok proposed that the computer could be used to speed up NMR data acquisition and use rapid frequency scanning to increase the spectrometer’s effective sensitivity. Sprecher wrote the computer programs for what is now called Rapid Scan Correlation NMR. The 250 MHz spectrometer became the workhorse of the NMR facility and was used by hundreds of scientists from around the world.

In 1973, the Czechoslovakian government refused to extend Dadok’s visa, but he and his family chose to remain in the United States. Dadok was sentenced in absentia to three years in jail, and his wife and oldest son were sentenced to one year, which they never served. The family was unable to return to their home country until after 1989’s Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel.

Dadok continued his research at Carnegie Mellon, where he was named the Technical Director of the National NIH NMR Facility for Biomedical Studies at Carnegie Mellon in 1976. Around this time, Dadok and facility director Bothner-By teamed up with the Intermagnetics General Corporation, a spin-off of General Electric, to build a 600 MHz high resolution NMR spectrometer with a nonpersistent 14.1 Tesla magnet. It was the world’s most powerful NMR spectrometer for many years.

Between 1970 and 1997 many researchers traveled to Pittsburgh to use the center’s equipment. During this time period, over 300 publications referenced work done at the NMR facility.

Although Dadok retired in 1997, his research is still making an impact in science today. The Rapid Scan Correlation NMR technique is being used in select NMR and electron paramagnetic resonance research. A group at the University of Minnesota led by Michael Garwood is using the technique to image media with short relaxation times. The technique, called SWIFT (Sweep Imaging with Fourier Transform), was sold to General Electric who is developing it for use in a commercial MRI imager.