As our units get smaller and extra refined, so do the supplies we use to make them. That means we now have to stand up shut to engineer new supplies. Really shut.
Different microscopy methods permit scientists to see the nucleotide-by-nucleotide genetic sequences in cells all the way down to the decision of a pair atoms as seen in an atomic drive microscopy picture. But scientists on the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., and the Institute for Basic Sciences in Seoul, have taken imaging a step additional, creating a brand new magnetic resonance imaging method that gives unprecedented element, proper all the way down to the person atoms of a pattern.
The method depends on the identical primary physics behind the M.R.I. scans which can be achieved in hospitals.
When medical doctors need to detect tumors, measure mind operate or visualize the construction of joints, they make use of large M.R.I. machines, which apply a magnetic discipline throughout the human physique. This briefly disrupts the protons spinning within the nucleus of each atom in each cell. A subsequent, temporary pulse of radio-frequency power causes the protons to spin perpendicular to the heartbeat. Afterward, the protons return to their regular state, releasing power that may be measured by sensors and made into an picture.
But to collect sufficient diagnostic knowledge, conventional hospital M.R.I.s should scan billions and billions of protons in an individual’s physique, mentioned Christopher Lutz, a physicist at IBM. So he and his colleagues determined to pack the ability of an M.R.I. machine into the tip of one other specialised instrument often known as a scanning tunneling microscope to see if they could image individual atoms.
The tip of a scanning tunneling microscope is just a few atoms wide. And it moves along the surface of a sample, it picks up details about the size and conformation of molecules.
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The researchers attached magnetized iron atoms to the tip, effectively combining scanning-tunneling microscope and M.R.I. technologies.
When the magnetized tip swept over a metal wafer of iron and titanium, it applied a magnetic field to the sample, disrupting the electrons (rather than the protons, as a typical M.R.I. would) within each atom. Then the researchers quickly turned a radio-frequency pulse on and off, so that the electrons would emit energy that could be visualized. The results were described Monday in the journal Nature Physics.
“It’s a really magnificent combination of imaging technologies,” said A. Duke Shereen, director of the M.R.I. Core Facility at the Advanced Science Research Center in New York. “Medical M.R.I.s can do great characterization of samples, but not at this small scale.”
The atomic M.R.I. provides subångström-level resolution, meaning it can distinguish neighboring atoms from one another, as well as reveal which types of atoms are visible based on their magnetic interactions.
“It is the ultimate way to miniaturization,” Dr. Lutz said. He hopes the new technology could one day be used to design atomic-scale methods of storing information, for quantum computers.
Current transistors are thousands of atoms wide and need to switch on and off to store a single bit of information in a computer. The ability to corral individual atoms could drastically increase computing power and enable researchers to tackle complex calculations such as predicting weather patterns or diagnosing illnesses with artificial intelligence.
Moving an atom from one location to another in a composite could also change and lead to the development of new ones.
The technique might also help scientists study how proteins fold and develop new drugs that bind to specific curves in a biological structure.
“We can now see something that we couldn’t see before,” Dr. Lutz said. “So our imagination can go to a whole bunch of new ideas that we can test out with this technology.”
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