Magnetic resonance imaging of single atoms on a surface


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revolutionized diagnostic medicine and biomedical research by allowing non-invasive access to spin ensembles1. To enhance MRI resolution to the nanometre scale, new approaches2,3,4 including scanning probe methods5,6,7,8 have been used in recent years, which culminated in the detection of individual spins5,6. This allowed for the visualization of organic samples9 and magnetic structures10,11, as well as identifying the location of electron7,8 and nuclear spins12. Here, we demonstrate the MRI of individual atoms on a surface. The set-up, implemented in a cryogenic scanning tunnelling microscope, uses single-atom electron spin resonance13,14 to achieve subångström resolution, exceeding the spatial resolution of previous MRI experiments5,6,7,8 by one to two orders of magnitude. We find that MRI scans of different atomic species and with different probe tips lead to unique signatures in the resonance images. These signatures reveal the magnetic interactions between the tip and the atom, in particular magnetic dipolar and exchange interaction.

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Fig. 1: MRI in an STM.
Fig. 2: Mapping different magnetic interactions between tip and surface atom.
Fig. 3: MRI of different atomic species.
Fig. 4: Mapping the 3D magnetic interaction potential.

Data availability

Data are available from P.W. ( upon reasonable request.


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We thank B. Melior for expert technical assistance. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Office of Naval Research. P.W., Y.B. and A.J.H. acknowledge support from the Institute for Basic Science under grant IBS-R027-D1. P.W. acknowledges support from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Author information




P.W. and C.P.L. conceived the experiment. P.W., K.Y. and Y.B. carried out the measurements. P.W. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. C.P.L and A.J.H. supervised the project. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Andreas J. Heinrich or Christopher P. Lutz.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Additional technical details, Supplementary Figs. 1–18 and Supplementary refs. 1–35.

Supplementary Video 1

Supplementary video for Fig. 1e.

Supplementary Video 2

Supplementary video for Fig. 2a.

Supplementary Video 3

Supplementary video for Fig. 2b.

Supplementary Video 4

Supplementary video for Fig. 2c.

Supplementary Video 5

Supplementary video for Fig. 2d.

Supplementary Video 6

Supplementary video for Fig. 3.

Supplementary Video 7

Supplementary video for Supplementary Fig. 4.

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Willke, P., Yang, K., Bae, Y. et al. Magnetic resonance imaging of single atoms on a surface. Nat. Phys. 15, 1005–1010 (2019).

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