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Optical Hyperpolarization and NMR Detection of 129Xenon on a Microfluidic Chip





A Berkeley Lab team has developed a low cost, energy efficient, and portable microfluidic chip to provide optically hyperpolarized 129Xe gas, which is used extensively in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Unlike previous sources of hyperpolarized 129Xe, the new Berkeley Lab technology extends the application of imaging and will be highly suited to applications that require small, portable, affordable chemical detectors.

The technology is a silicon-and-glass microelectromechanical system designed to produce small amounts of spin-polarized 129Xe gas device on a microfluidic chip that can be fully integrated into NMR instrumentation. Via a system of chambers, unpolarized Xe and N2 gas flow in and, encountering polarized laser light that has been specially tuned to an alkali metal electronic transition, take on the angular momentum of the alkali metal via gas-phase collisions of atoms. This yields a signal increased over those generated in large, expensive superconducting NMR systems.

With additional development, this invention could be used in applications that require sensitive detection of chemical species; detection of disease markers in patient blood samples; and / or monitoring of contaminants in chemical reactors. It may provide hyperpolarized 129Xe gas to arrays of chemical or biological sensors placed on microchips, possible yielding implementation of fully integrated 129Xe NMR instrumentation in low-cost, portable, and sensitive lab-on-a-chip devices.

129Xe gas has found extensive use in NMR and MRI due to its ease of being placed in non-equilibrium spin polarization states, which enhances an NMR signal. It is also very sensitive to its physiochemical environment, making it a valuable probe on a span of length scales. However, its use has been limited to the laboratory due to the cumbersome hyperpolarization equipment required and limited overall by large size (conventional sources of such hyperpolarized 129Xe can reach one square meter) and expense (over $100,000). The Berkeley Lab technology provides a critical step toward overcoming these limitations.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE: The researchers microfabricated a first generation device, which is described in the Nature Communications publication, also linked below. They have since leveraged other technology advances to yield signal enhancement and a more sensitive optical detection scheme in a second generation device, which will be described in a forthcoming publication. The researchers are conducting studies to determine the optimal operating conditions of these devices.

STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.


Jimenez-Martinez, R., Kennedy, D. J., Rosenbluh, M., Donley, E. A., Knappe, S., Seltzer, S. J., Ring, H. L., Bajajm V. S., Kitching, J. "Optical hyperpolarization and NMR detection of 129Xe on a microfluidic chip," Nature Communications, May 20, 2014.

Berkowitz, R. Producing Hyperpolarized Xenon Gas on a Microfluidic Chip, Berkeley Lab News Center - Science Shorts, June 10, 2014.


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