June 9, 2013 — More resistant than steel, carbon nanotubes are one of the strongest and hardest materials known. Their impressive electrical and thermal properties make them an extremely versatile material. Hollow on the inside and only one-atom thick, they lend themselves to a large variety of potential uses, from tennis rackets and bulletproof vests, to electronic components and energy storage devices. New research shows that they may also hold the potential for revolutionizing medical research with magnetic resonance imaging of individual molecules.
“Carbon nanotubes are similar to guitar strings which vibrate in response to the force applied. However, in the case of our experiment, the forces that cause the vibration are extremely small, similar to the gravitational force created between two people 4500 km apart,” explains Bachtold. In the last ten years scientists have made only modest improvements in the sensitivity of the measurement of very weak forces. This new discovery marks a before and after and points to carbon nanotubes playing an important role in future technologies for MRIs of individual molecules.
Conventional magnetic resonance imaging registers the spin of atomic nuclei throughout our bodies which have been previously excited by an external electromagnetic field. Based on the global response of all atoms, it is possible to monitor and diagnose the evolution of certain diseases. However, this conventional diagnostic technique has a resolution of a few millimeters. Smaller objects have an insufficient total number of atoms to allow for the observation of the response signals.
“The results presented are very promising for measuring the force created by each individual atom and consequently its spin. In the future this technique could revolutionize medical imaging” concludes Bachtold.
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- J. Moser, J. Güttinger, A. Eichler, M. J. Esplandiu, D. E. Liu, M. I. Dykman, A. Bachtold. Ultrasensitive force detection with a nanotube mechanical resonator. Nature Nanotechnology, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2013.97
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Thank you. TiA.