, Volume 135, Issue 5-6, pp 793-821

SQUID-Detected Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Microtesla Magnetic Fields

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We describe studies of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of liquid samples at room temperature in microtesla magnetic fields. The nuclear spins are prepolarized in a strong transient field. The magnetic signals generated by the precessing spins, which range in frequency from tens of Hz to several kHz, are detected by a low-transition temperature dc SQUID (Superconducting QUantum Interference Device) coupled to an untuned, superconducting flux transformer configured as an axial gradiometer. The combination of prepolarization and frequency-independent detector sensitivity results in a high signal-to-noise ratio and high spectral resolution (∼1 Hz) even in grossly inhomogeneous magnetic fields. In the NMR experiments, the high spectral resolution enables us to detect the 10-Hz splitting of the spectrum of protons due to their scalar coupling to a 31P nucleus. Furthermore, the broadband detection scheme combined with a non-resonant field-reversal spin echo allows the simultaneous observation of signals from protons and 31P nuclei, even though their NMR resonance frequencies differ by a factor of 2.5. We extend our methodology to MRI in microtesla fields, where the high spectral resolution translates into high spatial resolution. We demonstrate two-dimensional images of a mineral oil phantom and slices of peppers, with a spatial resolution of about 1 mm. We also image an intact pepper using slice selection, again with 1-mm resolution. In further experiments we demonstrate T1-contrast imaging of a water phantom, some parts of which were doped with a paramagnetic salt to reduce the longitudinal relaxation time T1. Possible applications of this MRI technique include screening for tumors and integration with existing multichannel SQUID systems for brain imaging.