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

table for a different application requiring high sensitivity. The NIST work evaluates the tradeoffs between size, power and performance in a quantifiable way.

"This result suggests that millimeter-scale, low-power, inexpensive, femtotesla magnetometers are feasible ... Such an instrument would greatly expand the range of applications in which atomic magnetometers could be used," the paper states.

The NIST device could be used in a heart monitoring technique known as magnetocardiography (MCG), which is sensitive enough to measure fields of few picoteslas emitted by the fetal heart from small currents in heart muscle cells, providing complementary and perhaps better information than an electrocardiogram. With further improvements, the NIST sensor also might be used in magnetoencephalography (MEG), which measures the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain, helping to pinpoint tumors or determine function of various parts of the brain. The existing mini-sensor likely will be able to detect some brain activity, such as the signals from alpha waves, which are about 1 picotesla in magnitude at a distance of 1 centimeter from the skull surface, but not the fainter signals from the full range of brain function. (Signals of magnitude 1 picotesla are identifiable with a magnetometer sensitivity of 70 femtotesla per root Hertz.) MCG and MEG offer the advantage of not requiring contrast agents or injected tracers as do other medical procedures such as MRI or positron emission tomography (PET).

Potential NIST collaborators are interested in making a portable MEG helmet that could be worn by epileptics to record brain activity before and during seizures. The devices would be much smaller and lighter than the SQUID helmets currently used for such studies. Kitching said the NIST sensor also may have applications in MRI or in airport screening for explosives based on detection of nuclear quadrupole resonance in nitrogen compounds.


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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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