Mobile MRI Images Arctic Ice
SANKT INGBERT, Germany, July 16, 2008 -- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, familiar to many as the gigantic, expensive machines found in hospitals, are going mobile. They're also not just for medicine anymore: German researchers have developed small, portable MRI scanners that are being used in the Antarctic to study climate change by analyzing ice masses or drilled ice cores.
Magnetic resonance imaging is considered one of the most important imaging methods used in medicine, yielding insights into the atomic structure of a biomolecule or into the tissues of a patient's body. Until now, it's one major disadvantage has been that the machines are huge, extremely expensive, and almost impossible to transport.
A portable magnetic resonance spectrometer (back right) allows investigations to be performed in the field. The magnet is housed in the circular base (foreground). (Image copyright ©Fraunhofer IBMT)
The Magnetic Resonance working group at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Technology Engineering (IBMT) in Sankt Ingbert has made MRI mobile, collaborating with the New Zealand company Magritek to develop portable devices.
"Instead of the large superconducting magnets that have to be cooled with liquid helium and nitrogen, extra-strong permanent magnets are installed in our devices. There is no need for cooling anymore," said Dr. Frank Volke, head of the working group.
The scientists arranged several permanent magnets so that the magnetic field lines overlap, forming a homogeneous field. That allowed them to develop small, less expensive and portable magnetic resonance spectrometers that can even be powered by batteries.
While the pocket-sized nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) devices are already in use in the Anarctic, don't expect to see one in your hospital anytime soon -- they can't replace clinical MRI scanners for whole-body studies.
Other potential applications for the spectrometers include: to deliver data -- online or directly -- during production processes, to analyze fat or water content in food products such as sausages and cheese, and to measure the humidity of materials, characterize the molecular structure of polymers, or determine the quality of trees for wood production.
For more information, visit: www.ibmt.fraunhofer.de
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