Magnetoencephalography (MEG) allows researchers and clinicians to see the electrical activity within the brain. When a neuron fires and sends electric current down the axon, the current generates a tiny magnetic field. Because the fields are so weak, special magnetometers called SQUIDs (superconducting quantum interference devices) are used for detection. They’re large, confining, and require the patient to sit absolutely still.
Now researchers at the University of Nottingham and University College London have developed a head-worn magnetometer that lets the patient move around freely while providing a scanning resolution better than existing machines. The technology should vastly increase the possible studies of the brain that can be performed, including having subjects move around, play games, and interact with others.
Small and light sensors are built into the device, which end up positioned close to the scalp. This advantage over SQUIDS is already substantial. But, because the sensors work at room temperature, unlike SQUIDS that require low temperature liquid cooling, they don’t require a bunch of additional equipment to support them.
One issue the researchers had to overcome was the Earth’s magnetic field, which masks the magnetic fields generated by the brain’s neurons. To do this, they built two walls with specially designed electromagnetic coils built in that adjust for the interference.
The helmet itself was 3D printed, and so can be manufactured uniquely to conform to the head shape of different people.
Here’s video with the researchers showing off their new magnetoencephalograph:
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