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Some Minor Science News PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

Today, we learn that IBM has a new product. It's no big deal... just an MRI that has 100 million times the resolution of the ones we use today. Wait... let me type that out completley... 100,000,000 times the resolution. That a 4 nanometer resolution, which is more than enough to see a single virus particle.

The IBM MRFM uses a magnetic sensor tip which picks up on the minute magnetic forces of hydrogen atoms in the sample, called a resonant slice. The slice sits beneath a tiny silicon cantilever which vibrates in the presence of minute magnetic fields. Vibrations are tracked by a laser interferometer, recording 3D details of whatever's at that location. Image courtesy of IBM.

While traditional MRIs scan the whole body, this device is meant for small samples. But this machine should open a whole new world of information about the world that's just too small to see. Electron microscopes were an enormous breakthrough when they were introduced in the 1930's, and this device could prove to be equally revolutionary.

So where did I read this "minor" news? Front page of the NY Times? Newsweek?  No, it was on TGDaily.com. Google News lists about 40 sources for the story, compared with 5,278 for "Slumdog" winning awards. Nothing against Slumdog... I'm sure it's very entertaining, but it's not going to lead to better engineering, more effective medicine, or a better understanding of how our world works.

Yes, the article is technical, and I don't pretend to be able to understand how it works, and I probably understand science technology better than the average American. But it doesn't take a detailed knowledge of interferometrics to know that this device should be major news.

 

 

 

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written by cwniles, January 13, 2009
nanometers? resonant slice? interferometer? slumdog millionaire? Is that even English?

Seriously though, this seems like a huge advance. I was wondering what, in laymens terms, this technology added to our capabilities and from what I read it seems this device has a very similar resolution to the electron scanning microscope (5 nanometer res) with the added benefit of now being able to see the cell structure, not just the surface.

hmm, sorry, probably just thinking aloud here but thanks for the article.
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written by eli54, January 13, 2009
Space-X and now IBM. And I thought all the brains in this country were being outsourced!
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written by MadScientist, January 13, 2009
Nice, but how is this an advance over contemporary electron microscopes? Since a laser (presumably 'continuous wave') is employed for the interferometry, the resolution is still limited by the laser wavelength and physically cannot compete with electron microscopes.

Nice invention, but will it ever get any use.

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Great News
written by timtimes, January 13, 2009
A more expensive diagnostic tool to replace and upgrade the one I already can't afford to use. With super tools like these, Bernie Madoff might be able to live forever.

Enjoy.
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written by Kuroyume, January 13, 2009
Nice, but how is this an advance over contemporary electron microscopes? Since a laser (presumably 'continuous wave') is employed for the interferometry, the resolution is still limited by the laser wavelength and physically cannot compete with electron microscopes.


Except, pardoning my limited knowledge and laissez-faire search, electron microscopes are only good at examining quite 'dead', well-prepared things. You can't interactively scan someone's brain with an electron microscope, can you? And one would think that doing so to a living organism might be fatal.

You were saying? (id est: links please)
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written by Willy K, January 13, 2009
It's small science news, not minor science news. smilies/wink.gif

Sure... some people like to "dis" things they are not involved with.

I cringe every time I hear some ignoramus say "Why do we waste money doing all this science stuff, why don't we spend that money helping people to insert favorite cause here."
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written by Kuroyume, January 13, 2009
I think that many of these breakthroughs, minor or small or major, don't impact general society for years or decades. As a for instance, the 'internet' was around for many decades before it became a public enterprise. ARPANet was first set up as a 'nuclear war safe' non-disruptible communication network and then metamorphosed into a networking of universities (NSFNET) before becoming the global communication network we know and greatly depend upon today.

Some scientific studies are truly ephemoral and never really have any usefulness beyond gathering knowledge. But some of these have unlocked knowledge that has led to technological advancements. Who'd have thunk that radioactivity would lead to things like nuclear power plants over a hundred years ago? The point that people don't get is that the outcome of any particular scientific research, whether deemed esoteric or practical, may have an impact that lasts decades or centuries. Science is still in the dark ages beseiged by 'demon haunted' minds who wonder in the dark without a candle to show the way.
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written by janis1207, January 13, 2009
My guess is that this device can provide information about the structure (atomic make up) of the sample, not just topology. Currently one had to use X-ray crystallography for that, but this method has its disadvantages.
Some kind of crossover with features from NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance), electron microscopy and x-ray crystallography. A very very nice tool!
It the device could scan samples in solution, it would be a Nobel prize winning achievement, and the greatest breakthrough in diagnostics in 20 years, but I doubt that smilies/sad.gif
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written by advancedGIR, January 14, 2009
That thing is neither a replacement of the medical MRI nor the electron microscope, although its purpose will be closer to the second.
It allows to see the structure of organic molecules by locating the hydrogen bounds, but probably in a very thin band behind the silicon sheet. On the other hand, as good as it is, an electron microscope can only work on metal surfaces, so any organic sample first has to be sprayed (usualy by gold, if my memory serves me right), it can show minute details in full 3D (as opposed to thin slices), but cannot show the inside of the sample, even less its molecular composition.
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written by BillyJoe, January 14, 2009
It seems to me that this is going to be a research tool rather than a medical investigation tool, at least intitially.
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written by cliquegge, January 14, 2009
Another point worth considering -
Irrespective of the use of this breakthrough (Military police or ...gasp... medical) there are likely to be flow on effects that will benefit current MRI process or technology.
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written by eiskrystal, January 15, 2009
Sigh...you are missing the point. Randi thinks that our achievements to catch the vibrations of hydrogen atoms should be seen as more interesting than what film (with a plot we have probably seen a hundred times before) won what award.
The puppy of wonder, it appears, is being drowned in societal pessimism and tv.

Joed: AllInventionsEqualPoliceKillarghhhhhh...breath....BigGovernmentConspiracyMilitaryNuclearStuff...
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written by BillyJoe, January 16, 2009
Randi thinks...

I don't know what Randi thinks because he hasn't posted yet, but I think we all understand why Jeff's tail is wagging.

smilies/grin.gif
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