“The most interesting aspect of the study is it combines two technologies that are both young and could be improved further,” says Michael Romalis, a physicist at Princeton University who’s developing similar MRI techniques. With these two technologies, ”you can make a pretty simple and inexpensive system,” he says.
Although it provides a creative solution to some imaging problems, the method is probably not suitable for widespread medical use at the moment. Because it relies on accessing the fluids that are imaged, the most feasible medical application would be imaging the lungs using a polarized gas, says Shoujun Xu, a member of Pines’ lab.
Instead, geologists could use it in the lab to study fluid-filled porous rock samples, which often contain magnetic impurities that interfere with high-power magnets. And with further improvements it might someday be used by the petroleum industry to study porous materials like oil fields and reservoir rocks, which also have magnetic impurities.
The researchers also anticipate applying the technique in microfluidics, which uses small-scale “lab-on-a-chip” technologies to study biological processes, screen for new drugs, and test toxicity levels in water. Currently, chips must be specially manufactured for use in high-powered magnetic fields in order to monitor fluids and chemical reactions with MRI.