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Emergence of single-electron imaging method is expected to change new drug development and quantum material characterization

Science and Technology Daily reporter Liu Xia

    A team of scientists led by the Weizmann Institute in Israel has published a paper in the latest issue of the journal Applied Physics Reviews, demonstrating a new method for imaging individual electrons. The method, which is still in its infancy, promises to take “close-ups” of various molecules in the future, which could revolutionize the development of new drugs and the characterization of quantum materials.

Although magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology has played an important role in diagnosing a large number of diseases for decades, there are still some underlying problems that remain unresolved. For example, MRI readout is very inefficient, requiring sample sizes of hundreds of billions of molecules to function, which results in the output being averaged. For most diagnostic procedures, the average is optimal, but at the same time loses details that may hide important biological processes.

  The researchers explain that in order to obtain the details of individual molecules, it is necessary to develop a tool that can obtain close-up shots of individual molecules. With these tools, researchers can closely observe the structure of important molecules, thereby opening the way for new discoveries or new drug development.

  In view of this, in the latest study, the research team developed a method that can pinpoint the position of the electron. The method is based on a rotating magnetic field located near the center of a nitrogen-vacancy, a special type of atomic-sized defect in synthetic diamond that is typically used as a quantum sensor. Because the nitrogen-vacancy is only atomic in size, the sensor is particularly sensitive to changes in its vicinity, and due to its quantum nature, it can distinguish between a single electron and multiple electrons, making it particularly suitable for precisely measuring the position of a single electron.

  The research team pointed out that the latest method has taken a key step towards precise nano-imaging. In the future, scientists will be able to use this technology to image different molecules and take “close-ups” of them.

Responsible editor: Chang Lijun

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