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Crane delivers 14-ton magnet for instrument to study brain activity

Workers prepare to move materials, including a 14-ton magnet, into the new Multi-Modal Imaging Center in the early morning hours of Jan. 12.

When the delivery comes by crane, it's a big deal, no matter what's in the box.

But the 14-ton magnet hoisted into place at the University of Delaware's new Multi-Modal Imaging Center on East Delaware Avenue in the frosty, early-morning hours of Tuesday, Jan. 12, is more than just a shiny new thing.

Robert Simons, chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, calls it a "game changer" and he and James Hoffman, professor of psychological and brain sciences and interim director of the new center, were among a small assembly of witnesses who waited four hours to see the magnet's grand entrance.

The after-midnight installation included 17 crates of electronics and other materials needed for operation of the MRI, according to Tim August of Bancroft Construction Co. A 120-ton crane was used to move the magnet and several other components into place.

The Siemens-built fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) device is a powerful new resource for researchers campuswide, statewide, and throughout the region, offering new interdisciplinary possibilities for those in health sciences, engineering, physics, biology, chemistry, and many other fields.

It will be the only research-dedicated fMRI device in Delaware, Simons said. To do the kind of work this magnet makes possible, researchers often travel to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia or to the University of Maryland in College Park. The cost, in money and time, is high.

UD's new magnet, built in Germany, has a 3-Tesla power rating, which makes it about twice as strong as most clinical MRI devices, and is designed to provide high-resolution images of everything from brain activity to muscles, discs, bones and organs, to name just a few applications. 

The imaging is done by ingenious manipulation of hydrogen atoms, triggered by a series of interactions between the magnet and radio waves.

Robert Simons, chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, was on hand to observe the arrival of the magnet, which he calls a "game changer" for brain research.

Mapping and analyzing brain activity is possible in the fMRI because the brain requires more oxygen in areas that are active and oxygenated blood has different magnetic properties, Hoffman said.

Christopher Modlesky, associate professor of kinesiology and applied physiology in the College of Health Sciences, will use it to continue his studies of the musculoskeletal system in children with cerebral palsy and other conditions. He was onsite early Tuesday, camera in hand, to see the magnet arrive.

Until now, his work has been done on a device at the A.I. duPont Hospital for Children near Wilmington.

"It will be nice to be able to do this in an academic environment, to bring more people into the program, and create new knowledge," he said.

In addition to its power for scientific purposes, the magnet has great potential to draw faculty and students to the University who need the technology and would otherwise go elsewhere to pursue their research and studies.

Simons said two new assistant professors with fMRI-focused research have joined UD's faculty in the past two weeks. And Hoffman said the fMRI will generate enormous amounts of data, which is likely to attract those with expertise in bioinformatics and statistics and computer analysis.

The fMRI device will be the main attraction when the new Multi-Modal Imaging Center opens in mid-March. 

The new building also has a second-floor room prepared for a 9-Tesla magnet when funding is available, and that magnet will add capacity for other researchers.

A third area of imaging in the building will have apparatus such as sonar, microscopes, computers, and other instruments.

The new center is supported by the University, the Unidel Foundation and the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Health Sciences and Engineering.

For a short video of the work, click here.

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A 14-ton magnet delivered by crane to UD's Multi-Modal Imaging Center is a key component of what will be the state's first research-dedicated functional MRI instrument to study brain activity.

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