23 July 2015

Happy birthday, 900!

We celebrate one of our flagship magnets and its decade of service to science.

Ten years ago this month, the MagLab commissioned its very own 900 MHz ultra-wide-bore nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) magnet. Designed and built by the lab and boasting a field of 21.1 tesla, the instrument was (and remains) a record-setting, engineering marvel that promised to deliver ground-breaking science. The magnet's coming-out party made a big media splash, from National Public Radio to the Late Show with David Letterman.

"The 900," as it is fondly called around here, has not disappointed, and there is a lot to celebrate on its tenth birthday. In a nod to its famous and funny fan, we mark the occasion with a “top 10” list of the coolest things about the magnet. You can also test your knowledge about the 900 with our quiz at the bottom of this page or review the long list of pdfscientific publications that the instrument has made possible.

Top 10 cool things about the 900

10. It's green! The magnet must be kept at extremely cold temperatures, made possible by a steady supply of liquid helium. Most of it is recycled, thanks to a customized system that captures the helium that “boils off” into gas and recycles it into a fresh batch of liquid helium.

9. It works from anywhere! Thanks to technology and our expert staff, scientists don't have to be present to run experiments. Far-off scientists can send in samples that MagLab scientists then load into the magnet. The off-site scientist can then control the experiment from home and monitor data, or request MagLab staff to run the experiment for them. Our scientific staff provides as much or as little help as they need.

8. It's very sensitive! Thanks to the magnet's homogeneity, high field and outstanding probes, the 900 generates the highest quality results for studies of membrane proteins, a rich area of biological research.


Read an article published in IEEE Transactions on Applied Superconductivity on the topic or explore more information on the 900 MHz magnet on this website.

7. It's roomy! The experimental area within the magnet is wide enough to accommodate small animals, so scientists can use it for longitudinal studies that examine how a disease or drug treatment progresses over time.

6. It's inspirational! It has led to seven patents and fueled the design and manufacture of novel magnet probes.

5. It's got excellent vision. You might even say 21-21 vision! With its ability to pinpoint atomic nuclei in their native habitat, the 900 reveals the shapes and chemical properties of large biological molecules like proteins and nucleic acids.

4. It's versatile! Not only can the powerful magnet identify hydrogen in the body to create high-resolution MRI images; it can also identify other elements in the body, such as chlorine, sodium, carbon and phosphorous, that are less abundant but more biologically significant.

3. It's a superconducting magnet! It was first charged up in July 2004, was unplugged, and has been running current through its superconducting wires ever since! Although the lab has built dozens of magnets over the years, including other superconducting coils, the 900 is the only persistent, superconducting user magnet here that we built. But that won't last forever: Lab engineers are hard at work designing and building new superconducting systems featuring novel materials, including a 32 tesla all-superconducting magnet for physics research and a high-temperature superconducting magnet for NMR.

2. It's prolific! Experiments conducted in the magnet over the past decade have resulted in pdf69 scientific publications, and the rate of publications has only increased over time. This includes important work on HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, stroke, cancer, influenza, tuberculosis and other health-related research.

1. It's the world's strongest MRI machine!! Comparing a typical hospital MRI machine with a field of 2-3 tesla to this magnet's 21.1 teslas is like comparing a lawn mower to a jet.