Superconductor breakthroughs imminent?

2007 may be a big year, at least according to industry spokespeople:

Low-cost MRI machines, super-fast Internet routers, and high-capacity power lines top the list of likely breakthroughs in the field of superconductivity in 2007, according to a ‘Top-10’ forecast list released today by Elie K. Track, Ph.D., senior partner, HYPRES Inc., a leading developer of superconducting microelectronics technology.

Dr. Track compiled the list of expected breakthroughs through comprehensive industry research, conversations with numerous scientific experts around the world, and through his work at HYPRES. The list was developed in an effort to pull together information on the wide variety of superconductivity projects worldwide and begin a dialog about the innovative advancements and breakthrough applications that are well positioned to occur next year.

“In my conversations with many respected colleagues, I continue to hear about new and exciting applications and breakthroughs that are likely to take place in 2007, largely because of the involvement of superconductor-based technologies,” said Dr. Track. “I thought it would be useful to pull all these together into one list so we can truly realize and appreciate the profound impact that superconductivity will have on various industries, the scientific community, and the average person in the coming year.”

Topping the list is an expected breakthrough announcement of laboratory demonstrations that can lead to an advanced, low-cost MRI machine that leverages superconducting technology.

It’s not clear to me how advances in supercon would lead to cheaper MRI machines. If room-temperature superconductors are developed, then design of MR machines can be simplified dramatically of course – no more cryo. But wouldn’t such new technology be expensive as well? I think it’s more likely that breakthroughs would lead to smaller MRI systems, ultimately even the fabled desktop unit. But cost savings aren’t going to come down the pike for years, even if high-temp supercon arrives tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Superconductor breakthroughs imminent?”

  1. For that matter, my understanding is that personnel costs generally dwarf the costs of any machine in a clinic anyway.

    Even considering equipment costs, the magnetic field is just as strong–there’s no gain in the design of MR suites.

  2. Superconductive analog-to-digital converters to listen to the output signal would help a lot: there is potential to push the noise floor down by at least an order of magnitude. (And maybe several orders. Superconductive ADCs are amazing, at least if you go by the industry white papers.) The product of magnet size and averaging time goes down in proportion to the receiver noise floor. Just imagine a scanner with a 0.1 T magnet that could complete a cranial scan in 60 seconds! Safety problems would be much reduced too, and you could pack several into existing suites.

    High temperature superconductors for the magnet would also be nice: cheaper to operate, don’t waste precious helium, and magnet quenches are much cheaper and less disruptive to operations.

Comments are closed.