MRI: Mammoth Resolution Increase

Do you ever wonder how the technology of an MRI is able to collect such a detailed image for the doctor’s disposal? According to research done at Harvard University, the ability to gather information via MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) is about to increase substantially.

MRI’s are fairly common within society, with many doctors prescribing them in order to get a better look at the body in regard to an injury or specific disease. NMR doesn’t carry the same reputation in modern culture, but that doesn’t take away from the value to analyze a molecule’s components for the sake of Chemistry or Medicine. Although these imagining machines have provided to be essential tools to the development of modern medicine treatment and drug development, they still have their own limitations that prevent them from viewing materials at a nano-scale.

In order to achieve this higher resolution, the scientists took the technology behind the MRI and miniaturized it by altering some of the components. The key difference between the relatives is the size of the magnet used to acquire the images: the nano-scaled MRI uses a magnet 20 nm in diameter that can generate a magnetic field gradient 100,000 times larger than most standard MRIs. Another vital change employed by the change in magnet size is the ability to bring the magnet closer to the subject being imaged to get larger signals in addition to the large magnet gradients generated by the magnet.

Example of Orientation of electron spins in contact with a magnetic field.

Example of Orientation of electron spins in contact with a magnetic field.

The science behind the image processing is determined by the ability to assess individual electron spins as they react to the magnetic field. The study used high quality diamonds that had been shaped to have a fine tip and a nitrogen-vacancy center in each tip. By performing this experiment they were able to calculate the individual electron spins in order to capture an image at a sub nm resolution.

This development in technology represents a giant leap in magnetic imaging by being able to witness individual electron interactions at a nano-scale to generate a high quality image; however, the researchers plan on tackling their next goal of calculating the nuclear spins of individual atoms that produce a signal a thousand times smaller than individual electron spins. Hopefully this technology can be transferred over to medicine quickly to improve the scope doctors can examine patients.

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