New MRI Technology Provides Nanometer Spatial Resolution

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Investigators and reaserchers have developed a never before seen nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method that provides around 10-nm spatial resolutions. 

This demonstrates an important advancement in MRI sensitivity; current MRI modalities regularly emplyed in medical imaging generate spatial resolutions on the millimeter scale, with the highest-resolution research devices giving spatial resolution of a few micrometers.

“This is a very promising experimental result,” said the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I; USA) physicist Dr. Raffi Budakian, who led the research group. “Our approach brings MRI one step closer in its eventual progress toward atomic-scale imaging.”

MRI is widely utilized in clinical practice to differentiate pathologic tissue from normal tissue. It is noninvasive and innocuous to the patient, using powerful magnetic fields and nonionizing electromagnetic fields in the radiofrequency range, dissimilar to computed tomography (CT) scans and traditional X-rays, which both employ more damaging ionizing radiation.New MRI Technology Provides Nanometer Spatial Resolution

MRI utilizes static and time-dependent magnetic fields to detect the combined response of large collections of nuclear spins from molecules localized within millimeter-scale volumes in the body. Increasing the detection resolution from the millimeter to nanometer range would be a technologic dream that has now been turned into a groundbreaking reality.

This novel technique introduces two new components to overcome obstacles of applying traditional pulsed MR techniques in nanoscale systems. First, a unique procedure for spin manipulation applies periodic radiofrequency magnetic field pulses to encode temporal correlations in the statistical polarization of nuclear spins in the sample. Second, a nanoscale metal constriction focuses current, generating intense magnetic field-pulses.

In their proof-of-principal demonstration, the team used an ultrasensitive magnetic resonance sensor predicated on a silicon nanowire oscillator to recreate a two-dimensional projection image of the proton density in a polystyrene sample at nanoscale spatial resolution.

“We expect this new technique to become a paradigm for nanoscale magnetic-resonance imaging and spectroscopy into the future. It is compatible with and can be incorporated into existing conventional MRI technologies," noted Budakian. 

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