Radically Boosting MRI Sensitivity with Hyperpolarized Diamond Nuclei

Brian Buntz

June 6, 2013

2 Min Read
Radically Boosting MRI Sensitivity with Hyperpolarized Diamond Nuclei

MRI's ability to detect weak magnetic forces in atomic nuclei in elements like hydrogen depends on the directional "spin" of the atomic nuclei and electrons. Such spin is can occur in two directions: up or down. The more uniform the spin direction is across the nuclei and electrons, the greater the resolution MRI can have.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley, CA) have exploited this property by hyperpolarizing carbon-13 nuclear spins in diamond. The result is a dramatic improvement in MRI resolution over what can be achieved using typical magnets at room temperature. 

The scientists achieved near complete polarization of carbon-13 nuclei positioned in synthetic defects in diamonds. This breakthrough could enable MRI to be used to probe the human body at the molecular level. In addition, it could prove to be a boon for the field of quantum information processing and spintronics, a technology that could increase the capacity memory and storage devices while curbing power demands.

The researchers detailed their work in a study titled "Sensitive Magnetic Control of Ensemble Nuclear Spin Hyperpolarization in Diamond." Their method of achieving high nuclear polarization was established at room temperatur. 

Earlier this year, researchers at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), the CSIC, and Macquarie University in Australia announced another nanoscale resolution breakthrough: by using artificial atoms and doped diamond nanoparticles the scientists succeeded in detecting magnetic fields found in biological molecules, paving the way to probe the inner workings of cells.

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz

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