Experiments reported this week* verify the sensor's potential for biomedical applications such as studying mental processes and advancing the understanding of neurological diseases.
NIST's atom-based magnetic sensor, about the size of a sugar cube, can measure human brain activity. Inside the sensor head is a container of 100 billion rubidium atoms (not seen), packaged with micro-optics (a prism and a lens are visible in the center cutout). The light from a low-power infrared laser interacts with the atoms and is transmitted through the grey fiber-optic cable to register the magnetic field strength. The black and white wires are electrical connections. Credit: Knappe/NIST
NIST and German scientists used the NIST sensor to measure alpha waves in the brain associated with a person opening and closing their eyes as well as signals resulting from stimulation of the hand. The measurements were verified by comparing them with signals recorded by a SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device).
SQUIDs are the world's most sensitive commercially available magnetometers and are considered the "gold standard" for such experiments. The NIST mini-sensor is slightly less sensitive now but has the potential for comparable performance while offering potential advantages in size, portability and cost.
The study results indicate the NIST mini-sensor may be useful in magnetoencephalography (MEG), a noninvasive procedure that measures the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain. MEG is used for basic research on perceptual and cognitive processes in healthy subjects as well as screening of visual perception in newborns and mapping brain activity prior to surgery to remove tumors or treat epilepsy. MEG also might be useful in brain-computer interfaces.
MEG currently relies on SQUID arrays mounted in heavy helmet-shaped flasks containing cryogenic coolants because SQUIDs work best at 4 degrees above absolute zero, or minus 269 degrees Celsius. The chip-scale NIST sensor is about the size of a sugar cube and operates at room temperature, so it might enable lightweight and flexible MEG helmets. It also would be less expensive to mass produce than typical atomic magnetometers, which are larger and more difficult to fabricate and assemble.
"We're focusing on making the sensors small, getting them close to the signal source, and making them manufacturable and ultimately low in cost," says NIST co-author Svenja Knappe. "By making an inexpensive system you could have one in every hospital to test for traumatic brain injuries and one for every football team."
The mini-sensor consists of a container of about 100 billion rubidium atoms in a gas, a low-power infrared laser and fiber optics for detecting the light signals that register magnetic field strength—the atoms absorb more light as the magnetic field increases. The sensor has been improved since it was used to measure human heart activity in 2010.** NIST scientists redesigned the heaters that vaporize the atoms and switched to a different type of optical fiber to enhance signal clarity.
The brain experiments were carried out in a magnetically shielded facility at the Physikalisch Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Berlin, Germany, which has an ongoing program in biomagnetic imaging using human subjects. The NIST sensor measured magnetic signals of about 1 picotesla (trillionths of a tesla). For comparison, the Earth's magnetic field is 50 million times stronger (at 50 millionths of a tesla). NIST scientists expect to boost the mini-sensor's performance about tenfold by increasing the amount of light detected. Calculations suggest an enhanced sensor could match the sensitivity of SQUIDS. NIST scientists are also working on a preliminary multi-sensor magnetic imaging system in a prelude to testing clinically relevant applications.* T.H. Sander, J. Preusser, R. Mhaskar, J. Kitching, L. Trahms and S. Knappe. Magnetoencephalography with a chip-scale atomic magnetometer. Biomedical Optics Express. Vol. 3, Issue 5, pp. 981�. Published online April 17.
Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
Nano-scale process may speed arrival of cheaper hi-tech products
09.11.2018 | University of Edinburgh
Nuclear fusion: wrestling with burning questions on the control of 'burning plasmas'
25.10.2018 | Lehigh University
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
19.11.2018 | Event News
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
19.11.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.11.2018 | Information Technology
19.11.2018 | Life Sciences