How Superconductors Can Teach Mris New Tricks

High-temperature superconducting (HTS) is performing some high-flying feats these days. For example, HTS circuits designed by Superconductor Technologies Inc. in Santa Barbara, Calif., assemble images from the very faint signals being sent back from deep space probes. But STI is now going after more down-to-earth applications: producing better images for the magnetic resonance imaging systems used by hospitals to peer inside the human body.

STI's new Supersensor coils act as ultrasensitive antennas for the radio signals given off by a patient's body when inside an MRI machine. Because the electrical resistance of the superconducting coil is zero, the level of noise contaminating the signal is reduced by 50% or more over copper coils. This results in much sharper images. Also, less powerful magnets can be used, trimming the bulk and cost of MRI systems. STI President Daniel C. Hu estimates that MRI machine prices could be reduced to as little as $200,000, from $1 million and up today. And junior-size MRI systems could blaze new paths. The National Eye Institute, for instance, is helping fund development of the first MRI machine for probing the eye's interior.

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