A Homebrew Magneto-Resonance Imager (MRI) Pushes the Limits of Open Source Hardware

Working its way through the prototype stage now, this custom MRI is scaled for small animals and human hands.

An ambitious maker is working on a very ambitious project: the fabrication of a homebrew magneto-resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, suitable for peering inside small animals or the human hand.

First demonstrated in the 1970s at Stony Brook University, magneto-resonance imaging (MRI) — known at the time as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), before the "nuclear" was dropped to prevent misconceptions about the safety of the technique - allows for the inner workings of a living creature to be studied non-invasively and without exposure to ionising radiation. It's a valuable diagnostic tool, but not cheap: A commercial MRI machine starts at around $150,000 and rapidly increases in cost as the specifications improve — not counting any running costs in electricity and liquid helium coolant.

Enter the Open-Source MRI Project, which aims to create a maker-friendly low-cost MRI using custom gradient coils etched into commercial printed circuit boards (PCBs).

"I am working [on the project] as a hobby," electronics engineer YAshiro explains. "It is designed for imaging human hands and small animals. I have created an MRI simulator in MATLAB, and I plan to replace the input data with actual measurement data and use it as reconstruction software. Since the magnetic field is not strong, there are few pixels and the amount of calculation is not large."

The project is in a relatively early stage: A prototype has been built, but is not yet fully functional. "The circuit that precisely controls the current works," YAshiro explains, "but the circuit that outputs the control amount to the front panel does not work. And the coil is [really] hot, the room is hot because of the coil."

Initial, though as-yet semi-functional, board designs have been published to the project's GitHub repository under an open source license. "When completed," YAshiro promises, "I will organise the design information and make it open source."

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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