SAN JOSE, Calif., July 15 -- IBM scientists have reported a breakthrough in nanoscale magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) by directly detecting the faint magnetic signal from a single electron buried inside a solid sample. IBM said the milestone is a step toward creating a microscope that can make 3-D images of molecules with atomic resolution.
Success in this quest should have major impact on the study of materials -- ranging from proteins and pharmaceuticals to integrated circuits and industrial catalysts -- for which a detailed understanding of the atomic structure is essential, the company said in a statement. Knowing the exact location of specific atoms within tiny nanoelectronic structures, for example, would enhance designers' insight into their manufacture and performance. The ability to directly image the detailed atomic structure of proteins would aid the development of new drugs, according to IBM.
"Throughout history, the ability to see matter more clearly has always enabled important new discoveries and insights," says Daniel Rugar, manager of nanoscale studies at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose. "This new capability should ultimately lead to fundamental advancements in nanotechnology and biology."
Rugar leads the team of scientists who for more than a decade have been working on advancements in the nanoscale MRI method called magnetic resonance force microscopy (MRFM). He said his team has improved MRI sensitivity by some 10 million times compared to the medical MRI devices used to visualize organs in the human body. The improved sensitivity extends MRI into the nanometer realm. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, the length spanned by about 5-10 atoms.)
The IBM team of Rugar, John Mamin, Raffi Budakian and Benjamain Chui published the single-electron results in the July 15 issue of the scientific journal Nature. The research is funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
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