A team of researchers developed a new method to improve magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) spatial resolution to be able to detect a single hydrogen atom. In their experiments, the team was able to measure the MRI signal with an innovative diamond sensor chip using an optical readout from a fluorescence microscope.
The sensor chip used nitrogen-vacancy center, when two carbon atoms are missing in a regular diamond lattice, and one is replaced with a nitrogen atom. The use of nitrogen-vacancy center is ideal for precise magnetic field measurements because it has both fluorescent and magnetic characteristics. Using an optical measurement of the magnetization a 2×2 millimeter piece of diamond, the researchers were able to locate a magnetic atomic nuclei in the structure. This technological development could lead to the use of single-atom MRI to better understand the spatial structure of biomolecules, such as protein structures.