The world’s most powerful MRI scanner is nearing completion. Construction started in 2006 and when finished the machine will be capable of generating electromagnetic fields strong enough to lift 60 metric tonnes, equivalent to the weight of five London buses.
Known as INUMAC (it stands for ‘Imaging of Neuro disease Using high-field MR and Contrastophores’) the scanner is being built by the University of Freiburg to provide scientists with a far greater degree of detail when looking inside the human body.
Whilst ordinary MRI scanners found in hospitals have a spatial resolution of around 1 millimetre, the INUMAC will be able to image areas from 0.1 millimetres upwards. Voxels at this size (these are volumetric or three-dimensional pixels) contain just 1,000 neurons, out of the brain’s estimated 86 billion.
A report from IEEE Spectrum notes that scanner will produce an electromagnetic field of 11.75 teslas (T) whereas most standard MRIs operate at between 1.5 and 3T, whilst the superconducting magnets used in the Large Hadron Collider create a field with a strength of 8.4T.
Although this sounds like the scanner would be subjecting humans to forces more powerful than those used to recreate conditions following the Big Bang, it should be noted that other ‘super-MRIs’ produce fields of up to 9.4T, and that there is a great difference between imaging a human body and smashing particles together at 299.8 million metres per second.
The project, which is expected to cost in the region of €200 million (£1.71m), reached a key milestone this summer when it took delivery of more than 200km of superconducting cable. These are currently being wound into coils that will produce the scanner’s magnetic field.
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