NMR and MRI technology has received a large boost, thanks to work by two groups that have developed a method to image individual molecules using nuclear magnetic resonance and magnetic resonance imaging. Instead of using nanomagnets, which require extremely cold temperatures, a large drawback, the researchers achieved this with defective diamonds.
The project is underway by two teams, one led by a University of Stuttgart physicist named Friedemann Reinhard, and the other by the Manager of Nanoscale Studies at Almaden Research Center Daniel Rugar. Reinhard is quoted as saying that he wants to "push NMR and MRI to the molecular level."
The problem up until this point with using NMR and MRI to image molecules has been detector size, which has to be near the size of the sample being imaged. Obviously, magnetic coils small enough to image molecules are hard to come by. To solve this problem, the teams made defective diamonds that contain one nitrogen atom beside a missing carbon atom.
By doing this, the diamond has a red glow, which changes in intensity based on the direction of the spinning electrons. The researchers then place different samples on the defective diamond and monitor the influence of nuclear resonance. Most of the time, this produced a signal from volumes only 5 nanometers long, small enough to get details from individual molecules. For now, the method is passive in nature, but Reinhard stated that the teams want to transform from detection to imaging as the next step.