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What Will Happen if We Replace MRI Magnets with Diamonds?

An international team of researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley have devised a way to utilize the defects in nanoscale and microscale diamonds to strengthen magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems and eliminate their need for magnets.

In a recently published study in Science Advances, lead author Ashok Ajoy, PhD, explains how tiny crystallites of diamonds can capture signals from MRI and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) through light instead of magnets. The diamonds’ crystal structures feature microscopic defects that can be leveraged by electronic spins. By controlling the spin polarization, the electrons of the diamonds’ atoms can generate a “sharper contrast for imaging than conventional magnets,” according to Berkeley Lab.

Although we tend to consider diamonds to be extravagant and expensive pieces of jewelry, the researchers used an economical technique of turning graphite into diamond. They’ve started applying for patents for a scaled-back hyperpolarization system that creates microwave energy, laser light, and magnetic field.

By replacing magnets with diamonds, imaging machines could become more affordable and less bulky and cumbersome. “This has been a longstanding unsolved problem in our field, and we were able to find a way to overcome it and to show that the solution is very simple,” said Dr. Ajoy. “No one has ever done this before. The mechanism that we discovered is completely new.”

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