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Three-dimensional Magnetic Resonance Imaging at Molecular Resolution

Final Report Summary - NANOMRI (Three-dimensional Magnetic Resonance Imaging at Molecular Resolution)

A magnetic resonance force microscope (MRFM) is a very sensitive variety of the scanning force microscope, capable of performing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at a lengthscale of a few nanometers. In our ERC project we explore whether such a “Nano-MRI” technique is a useful tool for biomolecular structure determination. If successful, Nano-MRI may enable three-dimensional imaging of single biomolecules with chemical contrast and no radiation damage.

In this ERC project, our team has installed an MRFM instrument capable of performing such Nano-MRI experiments. Initial demonstration imaging scans showed a one-dimensional resolution of about 5 nanometer, with sub-nanometer stability. A new generation of micromechanical sensors and nanomagnetic tips was developed that has improved the magnetic sensitivity by about 10x, and is expected to improve the imaging resolution to 1-2 nanometers. A protocol for detecting several NMR-active isotopes simultaneously was conceived and demonstrated, allowing for parallel MRI of several chemical elements. Several routes for preparing stable-isotope (2H, 13C) labeled biological complexes (namely, tobacco mosaic and influenza virus particles) were implemented to add targeted (elemental) contrast to images. Four ERC-supported postdocs and five PhD students with backgrounds in physics, nanotechnology and biochemistry have contributed to this progress.