(UWaterloo.ca) Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology has changed the way we can look at muscles, ligaments and organs. New developments promise to take MRI technology down to the molecular level to help us better identify diseases that ravage the human body.
Using quantum sensors, Raffi Budakian, lead investigator of the Nanoscale Magnetic Resonance Imaging lab, a member of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) and a professor at Waterloo, is developing a technique to take MRI capabilities down to the atomic scale. His team has designed a new way to generate magnetic fields on nanometre light scales for imaging and controlling nuclear spins. Because spins are also quantum mechanical, they are harnessed for detection purposes using very intense magnetic fields on very short length scales of the order of 100 nanometres — which makes the MRI using the millimetre scale seem huge in comparison.
MRI works on the millimetre scale. Budakian’s lab uses the angstrom scale, a metric unit of length that is 10 million times smaller than a millimetre, as a measurement for exploring molecular imaging. The very precise angstrom scale requires extreme sensitivity in order to measure at the molecular level instead of the physical.
Budakian is excited about this new imaging technique, which his team calls nuclear magnetic resonance diffraction (NMRD) because diffraction is a very powerful tool for analyzing materials that have a crystalline structure, such as proteins.
“At a high level this work could be used to develop quantum technologies to study protein structure and dynamics,” he says. “Understanding the structure of proteins is vital to drug development.”
These materials include biologically relevant samples of virus particles and proteins that cause diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Gaining a clear image of what these materials look like could have an immense impact on medicine, from better treatment to a deeper understanding of complex biomolecules.