Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Scientists Demonstrate NMR on a Chip : Mar 31, 2008

Premium

A sensitive nuclear magnetic resonance setup could easily take up a room — just think of the analogous magnetic resonance imaging machines in hospitals. Not only does it take up that much space, but it requires an expensive magnet and, often, cryogenics. Recently, however, researchers in Berkeley and Boulder teamed up to miniaturize this bulky process and take the magnet out of the equation by bringing together microfluidics, atomic magnetometry, and optics.

"This technology allows us to marry all the analytical potential of the NMR and MRI technology with all the advantages of the microfluidics chip: its portability, its automation, its small amount of material that you use," says Dmitry Budker, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley.

In general, an NMR signal is obtained from a sample in a stable magnetic field that has a second, oscillating magnetic field applied to it. The protons in the sample spin and create a magnetic moment that occurs at different frequencies and is detected and recorded as an NMR spectrum. "The real trick is to work without a magnet and put the detector on the chip using a laser," says Alexander Pines, a chemist at Berkeley.

To be able to work an NMR without a magnet, certain technological stars had to align. For years, Pines' lab has been working on alternative strategies for NMR and MRI, particularly in remote NMR detection (where the detection and encoding of the NMR signal is separated), while Budker has worked on atomic magnetometers. Together, the labs made an MRI in which signals are detected by a laser-based atomic magnetometer, rather than a magnet. Then, researchers led by John Kitching at the National Institute of Standards and Technology were able to make really tiny magnetometers (they also make atomic clocks the size of a grain of rice).

Te three groups of Budker, Pines, and Kitching collaborated to combine these advances to develop a small NMR-on-a-chip that uses a diode laser and microfabricated atomic magnetometer, all set onto a microfluidic chip. "Everything is microfabricated, including the detector of the NMR, onto the chip," says Pines.

"What we have illustrated is basically the first microchip combining these features. It's sort of a first step in that direction," Budker says.

The Scan

Genome Sequences Reveal Range Mutations in Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Researchers in Nature Genetics detect somatic mutation variation across iPSCs generated from blood or skin fibroblast cell sources, along with selection for BCOR gene mutations.

Researchers Reprogram Plant Roots With Synthetic Genetic Circuit Strategy

Root gene expression was altered with the help of genetic circuits built around a series of synthetic transcriptional regulators in the Nicotiana benthamiana plant in a Science paper.

Infectious Disease Tracking Study Compares Genome Sequencing Approaches

Researchers in BMC Genomics see advantages for capture-based Illumina sequencing and amplicon-based sequencing on the Nanopore instrument, depending on the situation or samples available.

LINE-1 Linked to Premature Aging Conditions

Researchers report in Science Translational Medicine that the accumulation of LINE-1 RNA contributes to premature aging conditions and that symptoms can be improved by targeting them.