Atom-Scale Magnetic Field Sensors First Step Toward Direct Imaging of Molecules
Physicists in the U.S. and Germany report important steps toward magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, of molecules in two separate studies. In both reports, the researchers show how specially modified diamond flakes can be used as nanoscale magnetic field detectors. These tiny sensors can elucidate the structure of single organic molecules.
With nanoscale MRI, researchers may one day be able to directly image proteins and other molecules at the atomic scale.
Map of Brain Pathways Reveals Remarkably Simple, Gridlike Structure
There are almost zero diagonals, nor single neurons that stray from the neuronal highways.
The human brain is just one big grid of neurons — a lot like the streets of Manhattan, minus Broadway, and then projected into three dimensions.
This new imagery comes from a souped-up MRI scanner that uses diffusion spectrum imaging to detect the movement of water molecules within axons (the long connections made by neurons). The brain has always been very difficult to image because of the wrinkly nature of the cerebral cortex that surrounds the brain — but this new MRI scanner finally has the ability to peer through the folds.
Members of the Human Connectome Project first analyzed monkey brains — which are very similar to human brains — and then used their findings to tweak the MRI scanner to improve its imaging of human brains.
A connectome is a complete map of the connections and pathways in a brain — basically, the neuronal version of your DNA genome.
“When we saw those first [brain] images, it was unlike anything else,” said lead researcher Gregory Berns in a video interview posted online. “Nobody, as far as I know, had ever captured images of a dog’s brain that wasn’t sedated. This was [a] fully awake, unrestrained dog, here we have a picture for the first time ever of her brain,” added Berns, who is director of the Emory University Center for Neuropolicy.
He added, “Now we can really begin to understand what dogs are thinking. We hope this opens a whole new door into canine cognition, social cognition of other species.”