Unique 3D-printed magnetic helmet could improve MRI brain scans

A new tool may help researchers produce better MRI imaging of the human brain, according to a recent study. The device is a wearable magnetic metamaterial made of 3D-printed plastic tubes wrapped in copper wiring. 

Xin Zhang, a College of Engineering professor of mechanical engineering, and her team of scientists at BU’s Photonics Center say that the magnetic metamaterial is wearable as a helmet or can be placed near the body part being scanned as a flat array. She suggests the use will make MRI imaging more efficient by improving the quality of brain scans and cutting down on costs.

With the wearable helmet, brain scans are high-quality and taken at twice the normal speed. Further, the magnetic metamaterial could be paired with cheaper low-field MRI machines to make MRI imaging more accessible in countries with limited access to brain imaging.

Metamaterials are engineered from small unit cells grouped together in a repeating pattern of rows and columns. When arranged in a precise format, it can bend, absorb, or manipulate multiple waves such as electromagnetic waves, sound waves, or radio waves. Depending on the wave, the unit cells are placed in different orientations or conform to a different size or shape. In the matter of brain imaging, the spherical structure works by changing size and allows images to be taken more quickly and at a higher quality.

Dr. Zhang has applied the use of metamaterials for different types of work. Previous work showed an acoustic metamaterial successfully blocked sound without stopping airflow, leaving the possibility of quieter jet engines and air conditioners in the future.

The researchers’ work is published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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