What is it about?

Nuclear magnetic resonance diffraction (NMRd) has been proposed as a method to study the structure of crystalline materials on the atomic scale. The main challenge to achieving this goal has been the ability to encode large relative phase differences between nuclear spins separated by angstrom-scale distances. In this work, we utilize key advances in nanoMRI technology to realize angstrom scale phase encoding of approximately 2 million phosphorous nuclei in an indium-phosphide sample, and demonstrate NMRd detection with sub-angstrom precision.

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Why is it important?

NMRd combines scattering with the spectroscopic capabilities of NMR and offers unique and powerful modalities for investigating the structure and dynamics of nuclear spin ensembles that exhibit long range order. The diffraction-based techniques developed in this work extend the Fourier-encoding capabilities of NMR to the angstrom scale and demonstrate the potential of NMRd as a tool for material science and for exploring quantum many-body dynamics of spins on the atomic scale.


Fifty years ago, prior to the development of MRI, Mansfield and Grannell proposed NMR 'diffraction' as a method to study the structure of crystalline materials utilizing the spectroscopic capabilities of NMR. They soon realized, however, that generating sufficiently large encoding wavevectors needed to probe the atomic structure of solids was beyond existing capabilities. Soon after, Sir Peter Mansfield and Paul Lauterbur applied NMR imaging to biological materials and developed MRI, earning them the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2003. Now fifty years later, we revisit NMRd applying new capabilities from nanoscale MRI that enable NMR encoding on the angstrom scale. I hope our work stimulates renewed interest in NMRd for materials exploration and quantum science.

Raffi Budakian
University of Waterloo

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This page is a summary of: Nuclear magnetic resonance diffraction with subangstrom precision, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2209213119.
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