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While diamond collectors and investors go gaga for pink diamonds, they’ve also captivated scientists and researchers with their vast potential. In particular, researchers are looking into how these rare diamonds can improve medical imaging devices, specifically MRI machines.

MRI and How It Works

Magnetic Resonance Imaging is used to investigate the anatomy and physiology of the body to ascertain health or diagnose and pinpoint stages of disease. These machines, which are typically huge, use radio waves and magnetic fields to take images of the body in detail without the hazards of exposing the patient to ionizing radiation such as experienced from an x-ray or a computed tomography scan. The patient is positioned within an MRI scanner which forms a magnetic field around the area being imaged. Hydrogen atoms in tissue create a signal that forms an image of the area, and an oscillating magnetic field is applied to the patient at the appropriate frequency. This excites the atoms and they send out a signal, which is measured by the machine’s receiving coil. MRI can image organs, bones, soft tissue, and other structures.

How Do Diamonds Fit Into This?

To understand how diamonds figure in an MRI, you have to understand how pink diamonds actually work. Diamonds are made of carbon, however when nitrogen impurities are present as they are in pink diamonds, the missing carbon atoms leave flaws and defects in the crystal. Replace a carbon atom with the nitrogen atom and put it next to vacancy in the diamond structure. This creates something called a nitrogen vacancy center. When light reaches a nitrogen vacancy center inside the diamond it fluoresces red which makes the stone appear pink to the viewer’s eye. The nitrogen vacancy center is negatively charged and when exposed to both light and magnetism the intensity of the fluorescence changes and the stone develops a charge that can be used in detecting localized magnetic fields.

Possible Uses

The use of pink diamonds could lead to much smaller, lighter, and less resource intensive MRI machines. Such machines could even be reduced to handheld machines to be deployed by technicians in clinical settings, instead of requiring a room and staff. Other applications also include semiconductors, telecommunication, and even uses of nanodiamonds to be inserted into cells themselves for imaging or even delivering drugs in order to kill chemotherapy resistant cancer cells. A new report by the National University of Singapore points to delivery of a formerly lethal dose of epirubicin via nanodiamond in treatment of liver cancer. Researchers at Cardiff University are focusing on imaging cellular pathways as well as specific applications concerning drug delivery.

The types and varieties of research on going around pink diamonds and their qualities shows that not every pink diamond needs to be put in an exquisite setting or carefully curated in a collection to be valuable. Even the smallest diamond, not visible to the naked eye, can save a human life.

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