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‘U’ Shows Off Highly Attractive New $8M Toy

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The University of Minnesota just got a cool new toy, thanks to an $8 million grant from the Institute of Health. It will lead to all kinds of research on the human body — specifically the brain.

It’s a giant magnet — the biggest of its kind, weighing in at 110 tons, but the weight of information it could gather is much greater.

A giant magnet is finally in place at the U’s Center for Magnetic Research.

“It was shipped from England to Duluth, it arrived typical for Minnesota — in a snow storm,” Professor Kamil Ugurbil said.

The trip from Duluth to the Twin Cities wasn’t easy.

“Something like 150 feet long, something like 16 wheels and it had a cab in the front and in the back. I’ve never seen a truck like that,” Ugurbil said.

There’s even still a hole that needs to be patched in the wall.

“At -5, people moved the magnet in here,” Ugurbil said.

Crews had to be precise about where it ended up, because it’s not only big, but has more energy than any other magnet before it.

“It is a room made out of iron. It’s 600 tons of iron around this magnet,” Ugurbil said.

It not only generates a magnetic field inside itself, but also spills outside.

The iron helps contain that field to inside the room.

“To push the boundaries, we’ve been increasing the magnetic field in which we can work and this is our latest accomplishment,” Ugurbil said.

Hospital equipment uses a fraction of the energy this one will.

“This is the highest magnetic field that is available for human imagining studies,” Ugurbil said.

A room full of wires will allow researchers to generate an accurate wiring analysis of the human brain.

“We hope to study brain connectivity and brain function with resolutions people have not been able to achieve,” Ugurbil said.

Healthy volunteers will be studied first.

Then in five to ten years those with things like mental disorders, Alzheimer’s or autism, will go in, making Minnesota a powerhouse when trying to research some of the toughest diseases out there.

There’s still a lot of construction and piecing together of technology that needs to happen before they can start testing the magnet on volunteers.

They hope to have it running by July.

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