/This Is What An MRI Scan Of A Single Atom Looks Like (via Qpute.com)

This Is What An MRI Scan Of A Single Atom Looks Like (via Qpute.com)

Doctors use MRIs to diagnose everything from tumours and brain injuries to multiple sclerosis and blocked arteries. To do this though requires fitting a person into essentially a giant magnet to scan them. Thankfully, there might be a much better way now.

atom MRI

The massive IBM atomic MRI – Images courtesy: IBM Reasearch

A magnetic resonance imaging machine works by applying a magnetic field across the human body. This interferes with the spinning protons in the nucleus of every atom in every cell being scanned. Then, a brief pulse of radio-frequency energy following just after makes the protons spin perpendicular to it. It’s when the protons release that energy afterwards and return to normal that the MRI can pickup those readings, and turn it into an image of our internals.

But in order to get enough data to diagnose a patient, a doctor has to affect billions of protons in a person’s body, says IBM scientist Christopher Lutz. Instead, he and his colleagues at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose decided to put all of that MRI capability into a scanning tunneling microscope.

Effectively, that lets them image much smaller regions, even as small as a single atom.

A scanning tunneling microscope’s tip is just a few atoms wide, and it moves along the surface of a sample automatically, picking up data as it goes. So all these guys did was attach magnetized iron atoms to the tip, turning it into an incredibly tiny MRI

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atom MRI

A four-image composite of an atom with varying energy levels during an MRI

“It is the ultimate way to miniaturization,” Dr. Lutz says. But the technology isn’t limited to just medical applications. Because it’s capable of imaging a single atom at a time, Lutz believes it could pave the way for future atomic-level manufacturing of devices, or even quantum computing.

“We can now see something that we couldn’t see before,” Dr Lutz says. “So our imagination can go to a whole bunch of new ideas that we can test out with this technology.”

.(tagsToTranslate)MRI scan(t)MRI machine(t)scanning tunneling microscope(t)atom(t)proton(t)imaging

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