Miniature Magnetic Resonance Imager Utilizing Diamond Quantum Sensors

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Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have made significant progress in improving the resolution of imaging methods by developing diamond quantum sensors. These sensors can enhance magnetic imaging, allowing for more detailed visualization of tissue and structures without causing damage.

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has long been used in research to image and study various elements in different types of tissues. In the medical field, it is commonly known as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). However, the existing NMR methods have limitations when it comes to studying microstructures within individual cells or ion diffusion at the smallest scales, particularly in the context of tumor development and battery performance.

To address these limitations, the TUM research team created diamond quantum sensors. These sensors were made by enriching the diamond layer with specific nitrogen and carbon atoms during the growth process. Electron irradiation was then used to detach individual carbon atoms from the diamond lattice, resulting in defects known as nitrogen-vacancy centers. These vacancies possess unique quantum mechanical properties that are necessary for sensing.

The quantum state of these nitrogen-vacancy centers interacts with magnetic fields, allowing the MRI signal from the sample to be converted into an optical signal. This optical signal can then be detected with high spatial resolution. By utilizing these diamond quantum sensors, the researchers were able to successfully analyze the diffusion of water molecules within a microstructure, simulating the behavior within a single cell.

Moving forward, the research team aims to further develop this method to investigate microstructures in living cells, tissue sections, and the ion mobility of thin-film materials for battery applications. The ability of NMR and MRI techniques to directly detect the mobility of atoms and molecules sets them apart from other imaging methods. The researchers believe that by improving the spatial resolution, these techniques can offer unique insights into various processes and structures at the microscopic level.

“The resolution of conventional imaging methods has not been sufficient to represent these processes in detail. By utilizing diamond quantum sensors, we can significantly improve the spatial resolution and delve deeper into studying microstructures within single cells,” said Dominik Bucher, Professor for Quantum Sensing at TUM.

The development of this miniature magnetic resonance imager has the potential to revolutionize medical diagnostics and research, as well as advance our understanding of cellular processes and battery performance. With further advancements, this technology could open up new possibilities for early detection of tumors and the optimization of battery designs. research team produced a quantum sensor made of synthetic diamond for this purpose. The diamond layer used for the new NMR method is enriched with special nitrogen and carbon atoms during growth. After growth, electron irradiation is used to detach individual carbon atoms from the diamond’s perfect crystal lattice, resulting in defects known as nitrogen-vacancy centers. These vacancies possess special quantum mechanical properties required for sensing. The material processing optimizes the duration of the quantum states, allowing the sensors to measure for longer. The quantum state of the nitrogen-vacancy centers interacts with magnetic fields, and the MRI signal from the sample is converted into an optical signal, which can be detected with high spatial resolution.

In order to test the method, the TUM scientists placed a microchip with microscopic water-filled channels on the diamond quantum sensor. This setup allowed them to simulate microstructures of a cell and analyze the diffusion of water molecules within the microstructure.

The potential of this technology is immense, as it can enable the investigation of microstructures in single living cells, tissue sections, and the ion mobility of thin-film materials for battery applications. The ability of NMR and MRI techniques to directly detect the mobility of atoms and molecules makes them unique compared to other imaging methods. By significantly improving their spatial resolution, these techniques can provide a deeper understanding of various processes and structures at the microscopic level.

“We now have a way to significantly improve the spatial resolution of NMR and MRI, which is currently often deemed insufficient. This opens up new possibilities for studying microstructures within cells, as well as improving our understanding of battery performance,” stated Prof. Maxim Zaitsev of the University of Freiburg.

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  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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