Could the Shimmer of Diamonds One Day Save Lives?

diamond gemsAnyone who’s ever needed an MRI has likely jumped a few hurdles to get the imaging procedure approved by their medical insurer. That’s because the underlying phenomenon that makes MRIs possible — nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) — is expensive to generate and manipulate. But scientists at The Graduate Center and The City College of New York are part of an international team that is using diamond crystals to create a new cost-effective way of exploiting NMR.

“We’ve been working with a group led by researchers at UC Berkeley to figure out if we can employ the properties of diamonds to eliminate the need for high-power magnets, large temperature-controlled rooms, and other expensive equipment to generate NMR,” said Professor Carlos Meriles (GC/CCNY, Physics).. “My team contributed to the theoretical understanding of how this process would work.”

illustration of diamond hyperpolarization
diamond hyperpolarization (image by Kristina Liu, UC Berkeley)

Their work involved figuring out how the flaws in diamond crystals — known as nitrogen vacancies — could be used to create spin polarization, Meriles explained. Spin is the process in which radiofrequency is used to upset the nuclei or electrons within a magnetic field, and when the particles realign (or polarize), they emit locational signals that can be used to create an image.

The international group has been working together for three years — each testing different methods for using diamonds to create spin polarization. This past January, Meriles’ team published a paper that looked at how well large diamond crystals facilitate polarization. But the international team’s most promising findings to date came from the UC Berkeley team — led by Professor Alexander Pines and postdoctoral researcher Ashok Ajoy — which discovered that powdered diamonds can  create spin with the assistance of small magnets and low-power blue laser light. Those finding were published in a recent issue of Science Advances.

If successful, the diamond-powered technology could have a broad range of uses, including analyzing molecules for new drug development, monitoring the quality of manufactured fluids, and enabling desktop blood analysis at a doctor’s office.

“The Berkeley team is now looking at how to use these powder crystals to create imaging contrast solutions, while my team is working to better understand the polarization process and translating the technology for use in nanoscience,” said Meriles.

Submitted on: JUN 8, 2018

Category: Faculty | General GC News | Physics