Giant Magnet makes U Attractive to Brain Mapping Researchers

The world’s most powerful magnet for full-body imaging scans has arrived at the University of Minnesota, where it is expected to attract millions of dollars in research grants and play a significant role in a national project to map the human brain. The 110-ton magnet was made by Agilent Technologies in England, then shipped across the Atlantic Ocean and through the Great Lakes to Duluth. It arrived Friday on a 150-foot trailer that was 16½ feet wide and had 64 wheels, operated by Perkins Specialized Transportation of Northfield. A team of installers took two days to winch the massive, tubular magnet through an open wall of the U’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, where it will be encased in a custom-built iron box to keep it from disabling nearby electronics and harming researchers. Once energized, the new MRI will produce 10.5 Teslas, a unit of measure that describes the strength of a magnetic field. By comparison, most hospitals use MRI machines that produce 1.5 or 3 Teslas. The stronger the magnet, the finer the image it produces. “The kind of information that we need to generate an accurate wiring diagram of the human brain simply doesn’t exist,” said Kamil Ugurbil, director of the U’s MRI research efforts. “This will enable us to be unique in terms of human brain studies.” Ugurbil is one of two principal investigators in the Human Connectome Project, which seeks to map the brain.

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