U of M has Gotten its Hands on the Largest Magnet in the World

Updated: 12/10/2013 10:47 AM KSTP.com By: Todd Wilson

The University of Minnesota is now home to the world's largest imaging magnet. It traveled across the Atlantic and through the Great Lakes to get here.

"This looks like a massive piece of iron with a big hole in it," said Dr. Kamil Ugurbil.

In some ways the magnet looks low tech, but it's not. "Inside it's an extremely high technology structures. This is the world's first 10.5 tesla magnet," said Ugurbil.

Tesla is a unit of measurement that describes the strength of a magnetic field. By comparison, most medical MRI scans use magnets rated 1.5 - 3 tesla or lower. The higher the number the more detail in the image. You're not going to find this in your local hospital.

"We can actually have people come from many different laboratories as well as us conducting experiments," he said.

The magnet weighs 110-tons. There's 720 miles of wire inside. Forty thousand liters of helium is needed to ramp up the magnet, starting it up will take over 3 months.

"And at the very end we will have a 60 centimeters space. There will be a table and a human and they will actually lie on the table and be put into this magnet," Ugurbil said.

Ultimately Ugurbil and his colleagues want to be able to image the human brain structure, its anatomy and its activity.

"We want to understand what causes psychiatric diseases or be able to diagnose them in what kind of preservation have taken place in the brain," he said.

Ugurbil says, they should begin testing in July 2014.

The cost of the magnet, all the electronics and an iron shield that will encase it is somewhere between $10-20 million.