Walt Porter in front of research equipment

Applied Optics

UNH physicists are engaged in fundamental research in producing nuclear polarization in gases and applying those techniques for medical imaging applications. Lung disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the US, yet there is no widely available modality to noninvasively image lung structure and function. Hyperpolarized gases, noble gases with their magnetic polarization enhanced by a factor of ten thousand, can be harmlessly breathed and imaged in the lungs. Imaging techniques can be devised to reveal gas space structure as well as functional information such as ventilation maps, local microstructure, and oxygen uptake.

UNH presently leads the world by more than a factor of ten in the quality and quantity of hyperpolarized xenon production. We are collaborating with imaging scientists at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston to apply this technology to measuring lung surface-to-volume ratio in animals and humans. At our Center for Hyperpolarized Gas Studies we are implementing precision diagnostics to quantify the rate and degree of polarization, in particular by measuring the EPR shift of the rubidium fine structure due to polarized xenon, and we are investigating whether hyperpolarized xenon my be useful for providing early diagnosis of other diseases, such as cancer.


Applied Optics Group

Over the past twenty years, members of the UNH Physics Department have been investigating Spin Exchange Optical Pumping (SEOP) to identify new technologies for producing nuclear polarized gases. Originally these efforts were motivated by applications in fundamental physics. Because the lone neutron in 3He dominates the spin and magnetic properties of the composite nucleus, a dense gas of highly polarized 3He can serve as a surrogate neutron target for electron scattering experiments. Also, polarized3He preferentially absorbs neutrons of opposite spin direction allowing volumes of polarized 3He gas to serve as analyzers of neutron polarization in neutron scattering experiments.