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IMAGE: A microscopic image of diamond particles with nitrogen-vacancy defects. These samples, which exhibit a truncated octahedral shape, were used in experiments that sought new ways to tune and control an… view more 

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Credit: Berkeley Lab, UC Berkeley

It may sound contradictory, but diamonds are the key to a new technique that could provide a very-low-cost alternative to multimillion-dollar medical imaging and drug-discovery devices.

An international team led by scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley discovered how to exploit defects in nanoscale and microscale diamonds and potentially enhance the sensitivity of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) systems while eliminating the need for their costly and bulky superconducting magnets.

“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 Ashok Ajoy, a postdoctoral researcher in the Materials Sciences Division at Berkeley Lab, and the Department of Chemistry at UC Berkeley, who served as the lead author of the study. “No one has ever done this before. The mechanism that we discovered is completely new.”

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