Chinese researchers working out of Xiamen University have used additive manufacturing to create more precise magnetic resonance systems. They have published the results of their work in the journal Nature, a premier scientific journal. The research focused on fabricating magnetic resonance probeheads, which are devilishly difficult instruments used in medical imagining, biological material detection, spatial imaging and chemical analysis. The probeheads rely on radio frequency coils to return granular detail. The precision with which these coils are produced thus affects the quality of data that might be returned.
Enter additive manufacturing. The Xiamen University scientists used additive manufacturing in conjunction with liquid metal injection molding. Liquid metal was used to create micrometer-scale custom radio frequency coils. These coils were complemented with customized sample chambers. The chambers are a neutral space in which radio frequencies and magnetic energy is a known quantity, which allows the instrument to measure distortions in the magnetic field. Customized sample chamber geometries allow magnetic resonance instruments to be customized for different applications. These sensor pieces connect to radio frequency circuit interfaces. This instrument assembly was stabilized in a single-piece 3D-printed polymer block.
The researchers discovered that additive manufacturing improves the fill-factor, which is a measure of how well the polymer block stabilizes the instruments.
FDM and SLA printers were used to build the polymer blocks. The blocks created channels through which the liquid metals could be poured. The metals solidified at room temperature, thus creating the radio frequency circuits and sample chamber.
This new technology will help scholars and industrial manufacturers deploy magnetic resonance systems across a wider range of applications.