Engineers Edge - Magnetic resonance imaging or (MRI) is typically used within the medical industry to visualize the internal structure and functions of the human body. MRI technology provides contrasts between soft tissue and is particularly useful in visualizing cardiovascular, tissue density contrasts and neurological or brain tissue. New research has developed a small portable MRI scanner that can perform scans in the field or on a desk top.
Magnetic resonance imaging is used extensively in diagnostic medicine. Other than exorbitant medical industry charges within the USA, MRI technology scanning equipment are large thus being almost impossible to transport to remote locations.
The Magnetic Resonance working group at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Technology Engineering IBMT in Sankt Ingbert has developed a magnetic resonance imaging machine that is compact and mobile. They collaborated with the New Zealand Company Magritek to develop small portable devices. Dr. Frank Volke, head of the Magnetic Resonance working group, explains the core technology: "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." To make this technology possible, several permanent magnets are configured such that the magnetic field lines overlap to form a homogeneous field. In this way, the developers have succeeded in developing small, less expensive, and above all portable magnetic resonance spectrometers that can even be powered by batteries.
Physicians, researchers and other industries can benefit from the mobile pocketsized nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) devices: The first "Kea NMR moles" are already in use in the Antarctic, helping researchers to study the effects of environmental change by analyzing the structure of ice masses or drilled ice cores.
There are many more potential applications for such devices, including delivering important data – directly and online – during production processes. Industrial manufacturers of sausages, cheese or candies, for instance, can use them to analyze the fat or water content of their food products.
The spectrometers can also be employed to measure the humidity of materials, characterize the molecular structure of polymers, or determine the quality of trees for wood production. Together with Magritek, the Fraunhofer researchers provide technical instruction for users in Germany and Europe and support them with device maintenance.
A portable magnetic resonance spectrometer (back right) allows investigations to be performed in the field. The magnet is housed in the circular base (in the foreground). (Credit: Copyright Fraunhofer IBMT)
Adapted from materials provided by Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.