Research center opens, features 25-ton magnet

Stacy Jo

If sheer interest does not draw observers in, the pull of a 25-ton magnet just might.
The University’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research will celebrate its grand opening today with speeches from top medical school officials and a ceremonial ribbon-cutting to honor the center’s new facility at 2021 Sixth St. S.E.
On campus since 1990, the center’s staff develops magnetic resonance imaging methods and performs physiological studies on humans and animals.
“It’s one of the jewels of the University,” said Michael Garwood, professor of radiology.
Two of the center’s four magnets are designed for human research, while the other two are used to do basic studies — such as brain and cardiac physiology and cancer research — on animals, particularly rats.
Cooled to 273 degrees below zero Celsius, superconducting wire in the magnets allows for little resistance, thereby creating a strong magnetic field, a prime condition for magnetic study.
These aren’t the type of magnets that one would stick on a refrigerator; each of the magnets, in fact, easily exceeds the size of the staple kitchen appliance. But they do attract metal — anyone standing too close to a charged magnet wearing metal earrings or a belt buckle can sense the attraction.
Home to four magnets, the center, funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, boasts a new acquisition: one of the most powerful magnets in the world.
Researchers use the term Tesla to describe magnetic field strength. At seven Tesla, the center’s newest magnet contains the highest magnetic energy stored of any magnet in the world used for human research. This magnet will be used for whole-body imaging, which will allow researchers to see inside a patient’s entire body.
After outgrowing their former home on East River Road, the staff moved to the new location last month. Although movers’ boxes still sprinkle the facility, the staff’s appreciation for the new location is clear.
Rolf Gruetter, associate professor in radiology, said the desire to expand from three magnets to four provoked the center’s move. With nearly three times more space in the new facility, work can be accomplished more efficiently, he said.
Seong-Gi Kim, associate professor of radiology, agreed.
“It’s much easier to do patient studies and animal research here,” Kim said.