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Researchers Develop MRI Capable Of Producing Nano-Scale Images

Update Date: Apr 19, 2014 01:59 PM EDT

Researchers have developed a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system that can produce nano-scale images allowing researchers to peer into the atomic structures of individual molecules. 

"What we've demonstrated in this new paper is the ability to get very high spatial resolution, and a fully operational MRI technology," said Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics Amir Yacoby, in the press release. 

"This work is directed towards obtaining detailed information on molecular structure. If we can image a single molecule and identify that there is a hydrogen atom here and a carbon there...we can obtain information about the structure of many molecules that cannot be imaged by any other technique today."

Researchers added that the model was not yet precise enough to capture atomic-scale images of a single molecule and that they were working to achieve that. However, according to researchers, the system has already been used to capture images of single electron-spins. 

"What we've done, essentially, is to take a conventional MRI and miniaturize it," Yacoby said. "Functionally, it operates in the same way, but in doing that, we've had to change some of the components, and that has enabled us to achieve far greater resolution than conventional systems."

Nano-scale system uses a magnet measuring just 20 nanometers in diameters but can generate a magnetic field gradient 100,000 times larger than even the most powerful conventional systems. 

"Our current system is already capable of imaging individual electron spins with sub nm resolution," Yacoby added in the press release. "The goal, eventually, is to put a molecule in proximity to our NV center to try to see the components within that molecule, namely the nuclear spins of the individual atoms composing it. This is by no means an easy task since the nuclear spin generates a signal that is a thousand times smaller than that of the electron spin... but that's where we're headed."

The work is described in a March 23 paper in Nature Nanotechnology.

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