Nanoscale physics research team performs magnetic resonance spectroscopy on a diamond chip

September 30, 2016 - Sharon Steely for CHTM

Professor Victor Acosta

Victor Acosta

National Science Foundation

A grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) began on January 1, 2016, for research conducted by the Quantum Nanophotonic and Biosensing Team at the Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM) at The University of New Mexico (UNM). The grant was awarded through Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR), an NSF program whose most important role is to bridge the gap between performance of basic science and commercialization of resulting innovations. 

The STTR Phase I grant award of $225,000 for the research is shared with the Principal Investigator (PI) for the project, Andrejs Jarmola of ODMR Technologies, Inc., which is a Berkeley-based start-up developing chip-scale diamond platforms for trace magnetic resonance spectroscopic analysis. The CHTM research team is led by Victor Acosta (Co-PI), UNM Physics & Astronomy assistant professor and CHTM faculty member. A unique feature of the STTR program is the requirement for the small business to formally collaborate with a research institution in Phase I and Phase II. The CHTM team conducts basic applied physics research in collaboration with its industrial partner.

Sensor to provide chemical detection with trace samples

The project is to produce an optically-detected magnetic resonance sensor for determining the chemical composition of trace quantities of liquid and powder samples. This is critical in numerous industries ranging from defense forensics and environmental safety, to materials synthesis and petroleum exploration. This new sensor will have a direct and broad impact on public security and defense, for example in airport and border security checks. The reliable detection and analysis of small quantities of potentially-threatening chemicals and materials are essential for simultaneously meeting the increased demands for security and eliminating the need to test large quantities of analyte (the substance being measured). An impact on science education is also anticipated, based on the anticipated development of an affordable turnkey system, which can be used in instructional and research settings. 2

Detection of biomolecules at 10,000 times greater sensitivity than current devices

National Institutes of Health

The research is also funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the amount of $216,281. The nanophotonic magnetic resonance spectroscopy platform is capable of uniquely detecting minute quantities of biomolecules. The specific detection of biomolecules plays a central role in modern life science including cell systems biology, high throughput drug screening, and clinical oncology. In addition to fluorescence microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance, and radiation techniques, electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) has emerged as a nearly background-free molecular sensing modality. The goal of the proposed research is to develop a new type of sensor to detect the type and behavior of biomolecules, such as proteins, with 10,000 times better sensitivity than current devices. The benchtop system is anticipated to be used for high throughput analysis of proteins in cell systems biology. In the longer term, the technology may be used in a miniature ultra sensitive sensor for malaria diagnosis. 3

Quantum Sensing

Three aspects of quantum sensing will produce a dramatic improvement over traditional EPR, which detects the small net magnetization of electron spins: 3

  • Detection of nanoscale variations in magnetization will produce orders of magnitude larger signals at ambient temperature.
  • A magneto optical diamond film is used to transduce the EPR signal into the optical domain.
  • Gratings are nanofabricated on the diamond surface to enhance contact between the sensor and analyte by more than >10x. 3

Presenting poster at Rocky Mountain Magnetic Resonance Conference

Postdoc Ilja Fescenko (l) and graduate student Nazanin Mosavian (r) with the poster they presented at the Rocky Mountain Magnetic Resonance Conference in July. Nazanin won the Jack E. Crow Travel Grant to present an invited talk at the joint session to over 200 scientists. Ilja won the postdoctoral travel award to present his own invited talk in front of the same audience.

Taking the research to market

UNM's Science and Technology Corporation (STC.UNM) is responsible for transferring technologies developed at UNM to the marketplace. STC has filed for intellectual property and is exploring commercialization options for the product of the research, a magnetic-resonance imaging spectrometer which detects sub-nanoliter volumes of liquid, gas, and thin-film samples over a wide range of ambient temperatures. 4

The sensor is structured to increase the total contact area with the sample, causing a boost in the Nanophotonic Magnetic Resonance (NMR) signal and reduction in acquisition time. This allows for sensitive detection of sub-nanoliter volumes of trace samples under a wide variety of environmental conditions. In addition, this technique is capable of being employed in low magnetic fields to detect nuclear quadrupole resonance (NQR), making it possible to detect extremely small trace quantities of analytes (e.g. nanograms of powder). 4

First setup of its kind at CHTM: Nanophotonic Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy

ODMR Laboratory at CHTM

Graduate student Nazanin Mosavian (l) and postdoc Francisco Benito (r) (now an engineer with Intel) with the first NMR Spectroscopy setup at CHTM. There are now three NMR Spectroscopy setups at CHTM.

The research: Diamond Nanophotonics

Republished with permission from the Quantum Nanophotonics and Biosensing research team's website.

nanophotonic spectrometer graphic

Schematic of the microfluidic spectrometer

1. Nanophotonic magnetic resonance spectroscopy

This project is led by UNM graduate student Nazanin Mosavian, Postdoc Ilja Fescenko, and Research Assistant Professor Abdelghani Laraoui in collaboration with ODMR Tech CEO Andrey Jarmola, Harvard scientist Pauli Kehayias, JGU-Mainz researchers Dmitry Budker and Lykourgos Bougas, and UNM scientists Steve Brueck and Alexander Neumann.

In this project, we apply the basic physics of color centers in diamond to create a device with unique properties desirable for chemical trace analysis. Unlike many magnetic-resonance (MR) systems, this spectrometer operates at ambient temperature, in a range of magnetic fields easily generated by small permanent magnets, and with nL sample volumes.

The analyte is delivered via a microfluidic chip to a sensor region consisting of a nanostructured diamond doped with nitrogen-vacancy (NV) color centers [1-3]. By applying pulses of laser light and microwaves, the magnetic field from the analyte’s precessing magnetization becomes encoded in the NV fluorescence signal. Analysis of the fluorescence signal reveals the analyte's MR spectrum, from which the chemical composition can be extracted from established libraries.

diamond graphic and pillar array

Diamond NV center and nanophotonic structures

1. V. M. Acosta, D. Budker, P. R. Hemmer, J. R. Maze, and R. L. Walsworth, "Optical magnetometry with nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamond", Cambridge University Press (2013).
2. V. M. Acosta, E. Bauch, M. P. Ledbetter, C. Santori, K. M. C. Fu, P. E. Barclay, R. G. Beausoleil, H. Linget, J. F. Roch, F. Treussart, S. Chemerisov, W. Gawlik, D. Budker, “Diamonds with a high density of nitrogen-vacancy centers for magnetometry applications.” Physical Review B 80, 115202 (2009).
3. A. Jarmola, V. M. Acosta, K. Jensen, S. Chemerisov, D. Budker, “Temperature and magnetic field dependent longitudinal spin relaxation in nitrogen-vacancy ensembles in diamond.” Physical Review Letters 108, 197601 (2012).

2. Few-photon optical logic in scalable networks

This project is currently led by UNM graduate students Yaser Silani and Forrest Hubert.

A naive extrapolation of Moore’s law predicts that computational elements will reach the 1 nm regime (~4 atoms across) by 2030. Further improvements will require new paradigms for information processing. One approach is to use all-optical logic gates to process information encoded in the amplitude and phase of light. This approach differs from previous failed attempts by using integrated nanophotonic networks to perform logic with the lowest power consumption allowed by quantum mechanics — the single photon level.

All-optical logic requires that photons interact. This is a challenge, since photons lack charge, mass, etc., but the photon-photon interaction can be mediated by a third party, atoms. In our case, all-optical logical operations will be performed by nonlinear optical addressing of color centers in diamond that are coupled to nanophotonic cavities [1-3]. Sequential logic will be enabled by embedding these cavities into interacting networks of optical waveguides, beamsplitters, and other on-chip photonic elements. An artist's rendering is depicted below, courtesy of C. Santori, HP Labs.

C. Santori, HP Labs, rendering of photonic interaction

1. V. M. Acosta, P. R. Hemmer, “Nitrogen-vacancy centers: Physics and applications.” MRS Bulletin 38,127 (2013).
2. V. M. Acosta, K. Jensen, C. Santori, D. Budker, R. G. Beausoleil, “Electromagnetically-induced transparency in a diamond spin ensemble enables all-optical electromagnetic field sensing.” Physical Review Letters 110, 213605 (2013).
3. A. Faraon, C. Santori, Z. Huang, V. M. Acosta, R. G. Beausoleil, “Coupling of Nitrogen-Vacancy Centers to Photonic Crystal Cavities in Monocrystalline Diamond.” Physical Review Letters 109, 033604 (2012).
4. A. Faraon, C. Santori, Z. Huang, K.-M. C. Fu, V. M. Acosta, D. Fattal, R. G. Beausoleil, “Quantum photonic devices in single-crystal diamond.” New Journal of Physics 15, 025010 (2013).

3. Nanodiamond molecular imaging

We are attempting to set a new record in resolution in super-resolution microscopy (2014 Nobel Prize, Chemistry) using recently-developed fluorescent nanodiamonds. This project combines nanomaterials synthesis, nonlinear optics, fluorescence microscopy, and bioimaging.

4. Bio-magnetic imaging

Cancer spreads when tumors shed cells into the circulatory system which later form tumors elsewhere in the body. These cells are rare and notoriously difficult to detect. In this project we seek to label rare circulating biomarkers with magnetic nanoparticles and detect them noninvasively using ultrasensitive atomic magnetometers. Along the way, we are developing new tools for high-throughput sorting and characterization of individual magnetic nanoparticles. This project combines materials science, cancer nanotechnology, quantum sensing, and biomedical imaging.


  1. Quantum Nanophotonic and Biosensing Team (CHTM research group led by Victor Acosta)
  2. NSF Award Abstract
  3. NIH Award Abstract
  4. STC.UNM Filing Abstract