Quite a lot, say physicists who've invented a new kind of MRI technique to do just that.
The technique may eventually enable the development of extremely small computers, and even give doctors a new tool for studying the plaques in blood vessels that play a role in diseases such as heart disease.
In a recent issue of Physical Review Letters, the scientists report the first-ever magnetic resonance image of the inside of an extremely tiny magnet.
Specifically, the magnet is a "ferromagnet" -- a magnet made of ferrous metal such as iron. It's what most people think of when they hear the word "magnet."
"The magnets we study are basically the same as a refrigerator magnet, only much smaller," said project leader Chris Hammel, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Experimental Physics at Ohio State University. The disk-shaped magnets in this study measured only two micrometers (millionths of a meter) across.
"Because ferromagnets generate such strong magnetic fields, we can't study them with typical MRI. A related technique, ferromagnetic resonance, or FMR, would work, but it's not sensitive enough to study individual magnets that are this small."
Likewise, medical researchers can't use MRI to image plaques formed in the body, because plaques are too small. That's why this new kind of magnetic resonance could eventually become a tool for biomedical research.
The technique combines three different kinds of technology: MRI, FMR, and atomic force microscopy.
They dubbed the technique "scanned probe ferromagnetic resonance force microscopy," or scanned probe FMRFM, and it involves detecting a magnetic signal using a tiny silicon bar with an even tinier magnetic probe on its tip.
As the probe passes over a material, it captures a bowl-shaped image: a curved cross-section of an object. The magnetic signal is more intense in the middle (the "bottom" of the bowl), and fades away toward the edges.
It may sound like an odd configuration, but that's why the new technique works.
Every atom emits radio waves at a particular frequency. But to know where those atoms are, scientists need to be able to localize where the radio waves are coming from.
Large-scale MRI machines, such as those in hospitals, get around this problem by varying the magnetic field by precise amounts as it sweeps over an object. The computer controlling the MRI knows that where the magnetic field equals X, the location equals Y. Sophisticated software combines the data, and doctors get a 3D view inside a patient's body.
For Hammel's tiny magnets, no methods were previously known that would image the inside of them, much less allow for precise localization. But since the new probe system generates a magnetic field that varies naturally, the physicists discovered that they could sweep the probe over an array of magnets and get a 2D view that's similar to a medical MRI. In Physical Review Letters, they reported an image resolution of 250 nanometers (billionths of a meter).
Now that they have their imaging technique, Hammel and his team are beginning to record the properties of many different kinds of tiny magnets -- a critical first step toward developing them for computer memory.
Experts believe that one day, tiny magnets could be implanted on a computer's central processing unit (CPU) chip. Because system data could be recorded on the magnets, such a computer would never need to boot up. It would also be very small; essentially, the entire computer would be contained in the CPU.
For biomedical research, the technique could be used to study tissue samples taken from plaques that form in brain tissues and arteries in the body. Many diseases are associated with plaques, including Alzheimer's and atherosclerosis. Currently, researchers are trying to study the structure of plaques in detail to understand how they form and how they affect conventional MRI images.
Hammel and his team hope to contribute to the development of an instrument that could be sold and used routinely in laboratories. But the technique needs some further development before it could become an everyday tool for the computer industry or for biomedicine.
Hammel's Ohio State coauthors on the paper include Yuri Obukhov, a research associate; Thomas Gramila, associate professor of physics; Denis Pelekhov, a research scientist in the university's Institute for Materials Research; Palash Banerjee, a postdoctoral researcher; and Jongjoo Kim and Sanghun An, both doctoral students. They collaborated with Ivar Martin, Evgueni Nazaretski and Roman Movshovich of Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Sharat Batra of Seagate Research, the research and development center of hard drive manufacturer Seagate Technologies.
This work was funded by the Department of Energy.
Contact: P. Chris Hammel, (614) 247-6928; Hammel.email@example.com
Pam Frost Gorder | Newswise Science News
Studying fundamental particles in materials
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie
Seeing the quantum future... literally
16.01.2017 | University of Sydney
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction