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New NIST mini-sensor may have biomedical and security applications
Date:11/1/2007

t make the heart contract or brain cells fire also simultaneously generate a magnetic field.) The NIST group and collaborators have used a modified version of the original sensor to detect magnetic signals from a mouse heart.** The new sensor is already powerful enough for fetal heart monitoring; with further work, the sensitivity can likely be improved to a level in the 10 femtotesla range, sufficient for additional applications such as measuring brain activity, the designers say. A femtotesla is one quadrillionth (or a millionth of a billionth) of a tesla, the unit that defines the strength of a magnetic field. For comparison, the Earth's magnetic field is measured in microteslas, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system operates at several teslas.

To make a complete portable magnetometer, the laser and vapor cell would need to be packaged with miniature optics and a light detector. The vapor cell can be fabricated and assembled on semiconductor wafers using existing techniques for making microelectronics and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). This design, adapted from a previously developed NIST chip-scale atomic clock, offers the potential for low-cost mass production.

As described in the new paper, NIST scientists demonstrated that the prototype mini-sensor produces a strong signal that changes rapidly with the strength of a magnetic field from the outside world. The device exhibits a consistent minimum level of electromagnetic static, or "white noise," which indicates a stable limit on its overall sensitivity. The authors also estimated that a well-designed compact magnetometer with present sensitivity could operate continuously for weeks on a single AA battery. Magnetometers need to be designed with applications in mind; smaller vapor cells require less power but are also less sensitive. Thus, an application for which low power is critical would benefit from a very small magnetometer, whereas a larger magnetometer would be more sui
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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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