Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, CA are attempting to change the perception that MRI systems are large, noisy, stationary machines that can come at extreme cost to the patient. They have developed a laser-based MRI modality that would make the technology portable, quiet and cheaper.
“We have developed a novel approach for the detection of MRI based on optical atomic magnetometry,” reported chemist Dr. Alexander Pines, one of the world’s leading authorities on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)/MRI technology. Dr. Pines is a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s materials sciences division and a professor of chemistry at the University of California (UC) Berkeley. “Our technique provides a viable alternative for MRI detection with substantially enhanced sensitivity and time resolution for various situations where traditional MRI is not optimal.”
The smaller magnet results in less polarization and a weaker MRI signal, which requires a more sensitive means of signal detection. The alternative MRI technology being developed at Berkeley is very sensitive to low-field magnet signals and is operable at room temperature instead of using superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDS). SQUIDS can only detect weak MRI signals when cooled at a temperature near absolute zero, which limits the situations in which it they can be used.
“Our system is fundamentally simple and does not involve any single expensive component,” Dr. Dmitry Budker from Berkeley Lab’s nuclear science division and UC Berkeley’s physics department said. “We anticipate that the whole apparatus will become quite compact and deployable as a battery-powered portable device.”


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