Magnetic Resonance Force Microscopy

MRFM (Magnetic Resonance Force Microscopy) is similar to MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) but with resolutions that are one hundred million times better. It offers three dimensional imaging of live biological samples at the extreme limits of microscopy. Researchers at IBM developing this technology have been able to create a 3D image of a virus.

A Breakthrough in Imaging: Seeing a Virus in Three Dimensions

Magnetic resonance force microscopy employs an ultrasmall cantilever arm as a platform for specimens that are then moved in and out of proximity to a tiny magnet. At extremely low temperatures the researchers are able to measure the effect of a magnetic field on the protons in the hydrogen atoms found in the virus.

By repeatedly flipping the magnetic field, the researchers are able to cause a minute vibration in the cantilever arm which can then be measured by a laser beam. By moving the virus through the magnetic field it is possible to build up a 3-D image from many two-dimensional samples.

The researchers said they believed the tool would be of interest to structural biologists who are trying to unravel the structure and the interactions of proteins.

Nanoscale magnetic resonance imaging

We have combined ultrasensitive magnetic resonance force microscopy (MRFM) with 3D image reconstruction to achieve magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with resolution <10 nm. The image reconstruction converts measured magnetic force data into a 3D map of nuclear spin density, taking advantage of the unique characteristics of the “resonant slice” that is projected outward from a nanoscale magnetic tip.

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