The development of tumors begins with miniscule changes within the body's cells; ion diffusion at the smallest scales is decisive in the performance of batteries. Until now the resolution of conventional imaging methods has not been high enough to represent these processes in detail. A research team led by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed diamond quantum sensors which can be used to improve resolution in magnetic imaging.
Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is an important imaging method in research which can be used to visualize tissue and structures without damaging them. The technique is better known from the medical field as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), where the patient is moved into a bore of a large magnet on a table. The MRI device creates a very strong magnetic field which interacts with the tiny magnetic fields of the hydrogen nuclei in the body. Since the hydrogen atoms are distributed in a particular way amongst different types of tissues, it becomes possible to differentiate organs, joints, muscles and blood vessels.
NMR methods can also be used to visualize the diffusion of water and other elements. Research for example often involves observing the behavior of carbon or lithium in order to explore the structures of enzymes or processes in batteries. "Existing NMR methods provide good results, for example when it comes to recognizing abnormal processes in cell colonies," says Dominik Bucher, Professor for Quantum Sensing at TUM. "But we need new approaches if we want to explain what happens in the microstructures within the single cells."