"Amplifying" the Fine Details of Molecular Structure Is a Gas

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  29 Mar 1996:
Vol. 271, Issue 5257, pp. 1810
DOI: 10.1126/science.271.5257.1810


Certain atoms on proteins and other molecules resonate at unique frequencies in a magnetic field, giving off signals that can indicate what these molecules are made of. But these signatures are weak, so researchers “listening” for them with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy struggle to make out the fine details. In this issue (p. 1848), scientists report a way to get hydrogen atoms to sound off at a higher level, using xenon gas as a “preamplifier.” The xenon atoms are pretreated to give off a powerful magnetic signal, and they in turn raise the volume of the hydrogens when the two types of atoms come in contact. The result may be a boon not only for those interested in molecular structure, but for medical imaging as well, which uses similar methods.