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'NMR On A Chip' Features NIST Magnetic Mini-sensor


Jul 16, 2001
ScienceDaily (Feb. 26, 2008) ? A super-sensitive mini-sensor developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) can detect nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in tiny samples of fluids flowing through a novel microchip. The prototype chip device, developed in a collaboration between NIST and the University of California, may have wide application as a sensitive chemical analyzer, for example in rapid screening to find new drugs.


Berkeley scientists selected the NIST sensor, a type of atomic magnetometer, for the chip device because of its small size and high sensitivity, which make it possible to detect weak magnetic resonance signals from a small sample of atoms in the adjacent microchannel. Detection is most efficient when the sensor and sample are about the same size and located close together, lead author Micah Ledbetter says. Thus, when samples are minute, as in economical screening of many chemicals, a small sensor is crucial, Ledbetter says.

Its small size and extreme sensitivity make the NIST sensor ideal for the microchip device, in contrast to SQUIDs (superconducting quantum interference devices) that require bulky equipment for cooling to cryogenic temperatures or conventional copper coils that need much higher magnetic fields (typically generated by large, superconducting magnets) like those in traditional MRI.