Fourier-transform NMR spectrometers use a pulse of radiofrequency (RF) radiation to cause nuclei in a magnetic field to flip into the higher-energy alignment. Due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the frequency width of the RF pulse (typically 1-10 µs) is wide enough to simultaneously excite nuclei in all local environments. All of the nuclei will re-emit RF radiation at their respective resonance frequencies, creating an interference pattern in the resulting RF emission versus time, known as a free-induction decay (FID). The frequencies are extracted from the FID by a Fourier transform of the time-based data.
An FT-NMR spectrometer consists of a control console, magnet, and a coil of wire that serves as the antenna for transmitting and receiving the RF radiation. (Only one coil is necessary because signal reception does not begin until after the end of the excitation pulse.) Because the FID results from the emission due to nuclei in all environments, each pulse contains an interference pattern from which the complete spectrum can be obtained. Because of this multiplex (or Fellgett) advantage, repetitive signals can be summed and averaged to greatly improve the signal-to-noise ratio of the resulting FID.