How can crude oil aid brain imaging?

By Amy Adams

What happens when two Nobel Laureates get talking? They hatch a crazy plan to take teeny tiny diamonds from crude oil and – presto change-o – turn them into a novel way of imaging molecules and structures in the brain.

No joke.

I recently compiled a series of stories about collaborations between scientists at Stanford and SLAC National Acceleration Laboratory. As part of that, my colleague Glennda Chui wrote a fascinating story about a long-standing collaboration involving diamondoids, which weigh less than a billionth of a billionth of a carat and are found naturally in crude oil.

In the story, Glennda described the many uses of diamondoids:

Over the past decade, a team led by two Stanford-SLAC faculty members — Nick Melosh, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and of photon science, and Zhi-Xun Shen, a professor of photon science and of physics and applied physics – has found potential roles for diamondoids in improving electron microscope images, assembling materials and printing circuits on computer chips. The team’s work takes place within SIMES, the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, which is run jointly with SLAC.

Recently, Nobel Laureates Steven Chu, PhD, and Thomas Sudhof realized that if they grew those diamondoids with some impurities, they could generate precisely flawed nano-diamonds that emit single photons of light. They recently formed the Neurovision initiative under the Stanford Neurosciences Institute to develop those nanodiamonds into miniature tools for imaging individual molecules in neurons.