University facility to harbor world’s strongest magnet

The magnet’s field is 200,000 times greater than the Earth’s

Monica LaBelle

The University will have a new force to be reckoned with when construction of a facility housing the world’s most powerful magnet is completed in June.

The Center for Magnetic Resonance Research on the East Bank will house the world’s first 9.4 Tesla magnet. It will be used to investigate brain function, chemistry and connectivity.

“The installation of this Ö magnet will maintain the center as the world leader in the field of (nuclear magnetic resonance) development for imaging and for metabolic pathway research,” said Frank Cerra, senior vice president of the Academic Health Center.

Dr. Kamil Ugurbil, the center’s director, said the magnetic field of the 9.4-Tesla magnet is approximately 200,000 times greater than the Earth’s.

The Earth’s magnetic field is one-half gauss, and 10,000 gauss equal one Tesla.

The room housing the magnet will be made of 290 tons of iron.

“Large amounts of iron contain the magnetic field, so the magnetic field doesn’t go outside the room very much,” Ugurbil said, adding that a car placed next to the magnet would be stuck to it.

“We have been pushing high magnetic fields for about 10 years,” Ugurbil said.

In 1990, the center installed a 4-Tesla system, the highest magnetic field available at the time, which paved the way for clinical usage. Ugurbil said the 3-Tesla magnet is in the process of becoming a clinical standard.

The University of Chicago will also install a 9.4-Tesla magnet this spring, but Ugurbil said he is confident of the University’s leadership in the field of magnetic resonance studies.

“This is not like buying a car. At these high fields Ö there’s a lot of unknowns and problems that have to be solved,” Ugurbil said. “(Other universities) will have to build that expertise.”

Ugurbil said the center’s six faculty members will keep the research center at the forefront through the application of their physics, computer science, neuroscience and physical chemistry training.

The center introduced brain-function imaging in 1991, Ugurbil said. Other current projects include diagnosing and monitoring breast cancer tumors and measuring neurochemistry in the brain, such as glucose transport and how it is affected by diabetes.

The 9.4-Tesla magnet is currently housed at the company Magnex, where it was manufactured in Oxfordshire, England.

The total cost of the center’s addition is estimated at $2,045,000.

The Academic Health Center announced Monday the center received a grant of $4.5 million from Los Angeles-based W.M. Keck Foundation to expand its brain-imaging research.

Monica LaBelle welcomes comments at [email protected]