For decades, scientists have used techniques like X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMR) to gain invaluable insight into the atomic structure of molecules, but such efforts have long been hampered by the fact that they demand large quantities of a specific molecule and often in ordered and crystalized form to be effective making it all but impossible to peer into the structure of most molecules.
Harvard researchers, however, say those problems may soon be a thing of the past.
A team of scientists, led by Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics Amir Yacoby, have developed a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system that can produce nano-scale images, and may one day allow researchers to peer into the atomic structure of individual molecules. Their work is described in a March 23 paper in Nature Nanotechnology.
"What we've demonstrated in this new paper is the ability to get very high spatial resolution, and a fully operational MRI technology," Yacoby said. "This work is directed towards obtaining detailed information on molecular structure. If we can image a single molecule and identify that there is a hydrogen atom here and a carbon therewe can obtain information about the structure of many molecules that cannot be imaged by any other technique today."
Though not yet precise enough to capture atomic-scale images of a single molecule, the system has already been used to capture images of single electron-spins. As the system is refined, Yacoby said he expects the system will eventually be precise enough to peer into the structure of molecules.
While the system designed by Yacoby and colleagues operates in much the same way as conventional MRIs do, the similarities end there.
"What we've done, essentially, is to take a conventional MRI and miniaturize it," Yacoby said. "Functionally, it operates in the same way, but in doing that, we've had to change some of the compon
|Contact: Peter Reuell|