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NEW TECHNIQUE FOR MOLECULAR IMAGING

August 27, 2013 By Joseph P. Farrell

As most of you are aware, I've been blogging a great deal lately about the prospects that 3-D printing seems to imply, among them, that it represents the first halting steps in the technology tree towards what can only be called "teleportation," the idea of stepping into a "phone booth" here, and stepping out in a phone booth in Calcutta or Johannesburg in a matter of seconds.  Of course, we're a long way from that, and as I've been trying to point out, there are some crucial steps and "proofs of concept" that need to be taken in the technology tree before any of that becomes reality, the three most crucial - it would seem to me - being (1) the ability to scan any object down to a molecular or even atomic level, then break it apart and reassemble it somewhere else, atom by atom as it were. This would require (2) a massive computing and data processing capability, one that would have to come from practical quantum computing technologies. Finally, it would require (3) an expansion of the principle of entanglement to orders of magnitude we can only imagine. Indeed, it may eventually prove to be unfeasible to do so.

For the moment, it would appear that the scanning technologies are those within the most practical reach, and that efforts to expand current capabilities are definitely underway. For example, consider this bit of news from Rice University shared with me by a regular here, Ms. P.H.:

Rice technique expands options for molecular imaging

Consider the meat of this new technique and the implications:

"The Rice technique, dubbed 'multiple-dimensional vibrational spectroscopy,' is able to capture the conformation of small molecules — for starters — with great accuracy, Zheng said. The spectrometer reads only intramolecular interactions among vibrations and ignores interactions between molecules, he said.

“'The atoms in every molecule are always vibrating, and each bond between atoms vibrates at a certain frequency, and in a certain direction,' he said. 'We found that if we can measure the direction of one vibration and then another, then we can know the angle between these two vibrations – and therefore the angle between the bonds.'

"He said the researchers begin with the chemical formula and already know, through Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, how many vibrational frequencies are contained in a given molecule. 'Then we measure each vibrational mode, one by one. Once we get all the cross-angles, we can translate this to a model,' he said.

"For now, as a proof of concept, Zheng and his team analyze molecules for which the structure is already known. Over time, the technique should be able to analyze much larger molecules, like viruses that contain thousands or tens of thousands of atoms, he said."

Note also that the article makes it clear that the technique can be applied to various types of inorganic material. It may seem a small step, but it is an important one, for it gives a much more exact approximation of the molecular structure, and the article implies that it is conceivable that it could eventually be expanded to inter-molecular structures.  Expand the capability to the ability to "scan" organic compounds or even DNA itself by measuring such tiny vibrations, and the scanning capability takes yet another significant step towards what would be needed for teleportation capability.

Obviously, we're still a very long way off from that. But what has intrigued me over the past few weeks, as I have watched and compared these stories, is the intuition that such research is being driven by hidden hands for precisely that purpose. A variety of corporations and universities are involved in this research, and I strongly suspect that by digging and scratching long enough, one might find grant-trails leading back to such entities as DARPA, the Jason group, and so on. Slowly, steadily, quietly, they appear to be researching all the steps in the technology tree to that capability.

See you on the flip side.