Microscopic gem the key to new development in magnetic lab-on-a-chip technology.
By Jennifer Pascoe, University of Alberta November 12, 2015
A garnet crystal only one micrometre in diameter was instrumental in a University of Alberta team of physicists creating a route to “lab-on-a-chip” technology for magnetic resonance, a tool to simplify advanced magnetic analysis for device development and interdisciplinary science.
“To most, a gem so tiny would be worthless, but to us, it’s priceless,” says Mark Freeman, University of Alberta physics professor and Canada Research Chair in condensed matter physics. “It was the perfect testbed for this new method.”
|Less expensive systems should improve access. A “small” MRI device sited in a Miami Florida imaging clinic, cira 2015|
In the new method of measuring magnetic resonance, published in the November 13, 2015 issue of the journal Science, the signal is a mechanical twisting motion, detected with light. The new approach is more naturally suited to miniaturization than the current method, which creates an electrical signal by induction. In fact, the entire magnetic sensor unit created with the new technology can fit on a chip as small as one square centimetre.
“Our discovery makes the case that magnetic resonance is in essence both a mechanical and magnetic phenomenon on account of magnetic dipoles possessing angular momentum,” says Freeman, noting that the concept of magnetism makes more sense when you consider its mechanical properties. “Magnetism needs better spin doctors than it has had. Everything in the world is magnetic on some level, so the possibilities for scientific applications of this new technique are endless.”
“Working in condensed matter physics is like having the best seat at an awe-inspiring parade of progress.” —Mark Freeman
|A world of miniaturized possibilities|
The discovery opens up a world of possible miniaturized platforms for health care, technology, energy, environmental monitoring, and space exploration. Explains Freeman, “There are immediate applications in physics, Earth sciences, and engineering, but we have only looked at electron spin resonance. Proton spin resonance is the next big step that will open up applications in chemistry and biology.”
To foster the development of these applications, Freeman’s team plans to openly share the information about how to execute this technique, feeding the current maker movement. It was important to the team not to patent this discovery—as is often the pressure for scientists conducting these types of discoveries—but instead to publish their findings in a scientific journal to provide open-source access that will advance the field. “Ultimately, the way science makes progress is through people sharing discoveries,” says Freeman, adding that he hopes others will adapt the technology for their own needs.
|Torque magnetometry. A macroscopic (1:10000 scale) version of nanomechanical torque sensors being developed by a research team at the University of Alberta.
The torsional resonator was created using 3-D printing. A steel disk placed on the centre of the paddle is magnetized in-plane, perpendicular to the torsion rods. The out-of-plane AC torquing field is provided by the coil around the printed frame. The steel disk is about 31 mm in diameter. The mechanical resonance frequency is around 30Hz; this video was taken at 1/4 frame rate.
Video courtesy David Fortin and Joseph Losby, University of Alberta. Uploaded on Youtube Nov 4, 2015
Freeman, who worked for IBM before coming to the University of Alberta, believes that chip-based miniaturizable mechanical devices—by virtue of their small scale and superior performance—will come to replace some electronic sensors in devices like smart phones and on space exploration probes. “It’s an elegant solution to a challenging problem, simple but not obvious,” says Freeman, who has been working on the experimental challenge solved in this paper for the past two decades. “Working in condensed matter physics is like having the best seat at an awe-inspiring parade of progress.”
Postdoctoral fellow Joseph Losby, PhD candidate Fatemeh Fani Sani, and former undergraduate student Dylan Grandmont spearheaded the research under the guidance of Freeman, along with collaborators at the National Institute for Nanotechnology and the University of Manitoba. The findings were published in the journal Science.
Torque-mixing magnetic resonance spectroscopy, Losby JE, Fani Sani F, Grandmont DT, Diao Z, Belov M, Burgess JA, Compton SR, Hiebert WK, Vick D, Mohammad K, Salimi E, Bridges GE, Thomson DJ, Freeman MR. Science. 2015 Nov 13;350(6262):798-801. doi: 10.1126/science.aad2449.
8 Ways Technology Is Improving Your Health in Positive Health Wellness