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NIST mini-sensor traces faint magnetic signature of human heartbeat
Date:10/14/2010

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the German national metrology institute have used NIST's miniature atom-based magnetic sensor to successfully track a human heartbeat, confirming the device's potential for biomedical applications.

Described in Applied Physics Letters,* the study is the first to be performed under conditions resembling a clinical setting with the NIST mini-sensors, which until now have been operated mostly in physics laboratories. The new experiments were carried out at the Physikalisch Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Berlin, Germany, in a building described as having the world's best magnetic shieldingnecessary to block the Earth's magnetic field and other external sources from interfering with the high-precision measurements. PTB has an ongoing program in biomagnetic imaging using human subjects.

The NIST sensora tiny container of about 100 billion rubidium atoms in gas form, a low-power infrared laser, and opticsmeasured the heart's magnetic signature in picoteslas (trillionths of a tesla). The tesla is the unit that defines magnetic field strength. For comparison, the Earth's magnetic field is a million times stronger (measured in millionths of a tesla) than a heartbeat, and an MRI machine uses fields several million times stronger still (operating at several tesla).

In the experiments at PTB, the NIST sensor was placed 5 millimeters above the left chest of a person lying face up on a bed. The sensor successfully detected the weak but regular magnetic pattern of the heartbeat. The same signals were recorded using the "gold standard" for magnetic measurements, a SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device). A comparison of the signals confirmed that the NIST mini-sensor correctly measured the heartbeat and identified many typical signal features. The NIST mini-sensor generates more "noise" (interference) in the signal but has the advantage of operatin
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Contact: Laura Ost
laura.ost@nist.gov
303-497-4880
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Source:Eurekalert  

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