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Diamonds 'may be the ultimate MRI probe'

Diamonds are a woman's best friends, they say. Now, a new study has claimed that the gems may soon turn out to be a patient's best friend as well.

world Updated: Sep 23, 2009 11:35 IST

Diamonds are a woman's best friends, they say. Now, a new study has claimed that the gems may soon turn out to be a patient's best friend as well.

An international team, led by scientists from Harvard University, has carried out the study and found that diamond, formed of pure carbon, occasionally has minute imperfections within its crystalline lattice.

A common impurity is a "nitrogen vacancy", in which two carbon atoms are replaced by a single atom of nitrogen, leaving the other carbon atom space vacant. Nitrogen vacancies are in part responsible for diamond's famed luster, for they are actually fluorescent.

According to the scientists, the slight variations in this fluorescence can be used to determine the magnetic spin of a single electron in the nitrogen. Spin's quantum property that has a value of either "up" or "down", and therefore could represent one or zero in binary computation.

The team's recent achievement was to transfer this quantum information repeatedly between the nitrogen electron and the nuclei of adjacent carbon atoms, forming a small circuit capable of logic operations.

Reading a quantum bit's spin information-a fundamental task for a quantum computer-has been a daunting challenge, but the team demonstrated that by transferring the information back and forth between the electron and the nuclei, the information could be amplified, making it much easier to read.

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