The broad EPR spectrum of Gd(III) spin labels restricts the dipolar modulation depth in distance measurements between Gd(III) pairs to a few percent. To overcome this limitation, frequency-swept chirp pulses are utilized as pump pulses in the DEER experiment. Using a model system with 3.4 nm Gd-Gd distance, application of one single chirp pump pulse at Q-band frequencies leads to modulation depths beyond 10%. However, the larger modulation depth is counteracted by a reduction of the absolute echo intensity due to the pump pulse. As supported by spin dynamics simulations, this effect is primarily driven by signal loss to double-quantum coherence and specific to the Gd(III) high spin state of S=7/2. In order to balance modulation depth and echo intensity for optimum sensitivity, a simple experimental procedure is proposed. An additional improvement by 25% in DEER sensitivity is achieved with two consecutive chirp pump pulses. These pulses pump the Gd(III) spectrum symmetrically around the observation position, therefore mutually compensating for dynamical Bloch-Siegert phase shifts at the observer spins. The improved sensitivity of the DEER data with modulation depths on the order of 20% is due to mitigation of the echo reduction effects by the consecutive pump pulses. In particular, the second pump pulse does not lead to additional signal loss if perfect inversion is assumed. Moreover, the compensation of the dynamical Bloch-Siegert phase prevents signal loss due to spatial dependence of the dynamical phase, which is caused by inhomogeneities in the driving field. The new methodology is combined with pre-polarization techniques to measure long distances up to 8.6 nm, where signal intensity and modulation depth become attenuated by long dipolar evolution windows. In addition, the influence of the zero-field splitting parameters on the echo intensity is studied with simulations. Herein, larger sensitivity is anticipated for Gd(III) complexes with zero-field splitting that is smaller than for the employed Gd-PyMTA complex.
Keywords: Chirp pulses; Distance measurements; Sensitivity enhancement.
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