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100 million times closer to the meat of the matter

IBM and Stanford University have created an UBER-MRI machine with…get this…100 million times the resolution of a conventional MRI.

That’s an improvement of 8 orders of magnitude.

What…couldn’t they improve it a billion times?  :-)

This lets them image biological objects at the nanoscale for the first time using MRI-type imaging.
The technology is called MRFM- “magnetic resonance force microscopy”

So how does this work and what’s the big deal?

What this thing essentially does is detect extremely minute magnetic forces.
A biological sample is placed on a vanishingly small sliver of silver shaped kind of like a diving board. This is the cantilever. On the other side of the sample is a nanoscopic magnetic tip. Each of the nuclei in the sample act like tiny magnets which can be manipulated to attract and then repel the magnetic tip which causes the cantilever to vibrate back and forth. These vibrations are then analyzed to create 3D images.

This is one of the key advancements of this technology. Scanning electron microscopes can get down to the nanometer realm and even deeper but they can’t create 3D images. The other key advantage this method provides is sub-surface imaging. Seeing the nanoscopic surface of a virus, even if it’s in 3D, is all well and good but to really understand these micro-machines you need to get under the hood. This is exactly what MRFM allows.

The benefits of this device could be pretty extraordinary.

According to Dan Rugar, manager of Nanoscale Studies at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif
“If we achieve our ultimate goal of atomic resolution, it could have a tremendous impact on medicine and drug design…”.

Mark Dean, VP of strategy at IBM Research said, “This technology stands to revolutionize the way we look at viruses, bacteria, proteins, and other biological elements.”

In fact, if this is used to study the structure of proteins and the ways they interact, we could see a revolution in drug design, personalized healthcare and targeted medicines.

This technology is especially interesting to me because if it allows for the examination of minute complex 3-D structures the impact for nanotechnology and integrated circuit design could be huge.

Keep in mind though that this device is not like a conventional MRI scanner. It is not intended for a hospital setting. You’re not going to sit in a tube and have your nasty little nano-bits examined by this device

6 comments to 100 million times closer to the meat of the matter

  • Science never ceases to amaze. I am always wondering what the next major advancements will be in different fields and this seems to be an “out of nowhere” breakthrough, exciting nonetheless.

  • Steve Page

    Keep in mind though that this device is not like a conventional MRI scanner. It is not intended for a hospital setting. You’re not going to sit in a tube and have your nasty little nano-bits examined by this device

    It is promising though, Bob, more due to the scale of the leap than anything. The poor resolution of fMRI brain scans is a bit of a bugbear of mine, so I hope that that is at least on the ‘to do’ list of someone somewhere.

  • DLC

    One of the ultimate in cool developments!
    We can take out a few molecules of Bob’s Brain and see how the pieces fit together !

    Now, if only we could image an entire brain at this level of detail instead of just a few molecules. Still, you have to admit, it’s a big step forward.

  • pzeimet

    I’m always surprised that a news story like this doesn’t make the top stories of the day. This kind of breakthrough is not only scientifically & medically significant, it’s also interesting and positive.

  • irishjazz

    This sounds a lot like the device they developed that enabled them to spell out IBM with silicon atoms.

  • Chris Noble

    This sounds a lot like the device they developed that enabled them to spell out IBM with silicon atoms.

    You are right it is based on atomic force microscopy which can already give the same structural information at the same resolution as this technique.

    The key advantage of this technique is the addition of magnetic resonance which can give chemical information. This means that in addition to getting the overall shape of the virus or whatever you can identify which molecules are where.

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