BBC News reports that a portable MRI, even a handheld one, might one day be possible:
… conventional MRI scanners need to use big magnets that have to be chilled by complicated cooling systems, which is expensive.
Igor Savukov and Michael Romalis [of Princeton University–ed.] have shown that a device called an atomic magnetometer can detect magnetic signals from water without giant magnets or complicated cooling systems.
The atomic magnetometer [shown above–ed.] is basically a small (4cm) glass container filled with hot, vaporised potassium suspended in a gas. With the help of lasers, it is possible to work out the magnetic signals of water samples nearby by looking at how the potassium atoms move within the glass container.
However, the magnetometer and the sample being analysed have to sit inside bulky shields to avoid background “noise” or interference from the surrounding environment, pointed out the researchers.
Eventually it should be possible to do away with the shielding and build a hand-held MRI machine that images tissues inside the body as easily as a digital camera takes a photo, they told New Scientist.
Professor Peter Morris from Nottingham University’s MRI centre said: “It’s interesting, but it’s a long way to go before it becomes a viable imaging system.
“I don’t think the big manufacturers of conventional MRI scanners will be quaking in their boots yet.”