Technology being developed by a Kiwi researcher could pave the way toward brain-scanning systems able to be worn on our heads.

Ben Parkinson, of Victoria University's Robinson Research Institute, has been pioneering compact, super-conducting magnets to use in the smaller, next generation of MRI scanners.

The magnet technology would enable more portable systems to be developed, such as helmet-style systems – and widen the potential for MRI scanning to be used outside of clinical labs.

The beauty of Parkinson's cryogen-free low temperature superconductor (LTS) magnets is that they only require water and electrical connections to stay cool when used in an MRI system.


In current MRI magnet technology, liquid helium is required to keep the systems at a low enough temperature to work and produce high quality images.

He is now set to push his tech further after winning a place in KiwiNet's emerging innovator programme.

"I'm really pleased to have successfully developed this first prototype," he said.

"We think it's the first time a New Zealand team has manufactured a cryogen free LTS magnet, and our team at Victoria University of Wellington is now one of a handful of teams with this capability internationally."

Through the programme, Parkinson also travelled to Brazil to work with a company now using his innovation in technology coming onto the South American market.

Parkinson has also developed a prototype helmet-style MRI magnet, in a half-scale version, for a highly novel brain imaging system project being led by the Centre for Magnetic Resonance Research at the University of Minnesota.

His team is now at a point in that project, funded by the US National Institutes of Health, where they could build the helmet-like prototype, which Parkinson said completely excluded the patient's shoulders and had a window through the magnet to help reduce claustrophobia.

Parkinson said his experience working with potential commercial partners has helped him to think differently about his research.


"It's no longer just about how clever the science is; commercialisation is about knowing which problems you're solving, who wants your technology, and how it can be developed and sold in the market to make an impact."

KiwiNet chief executive Dr James Hutchinson saw "enormous" market potential in Parkinson's system.

"This project presents a real opportunity to move MRI brain imaging from the confines of large imaging suites to essentially anywhere with electrical power," he said.

"This opens up a world of new possibilities for neurological research."

Hutchinson said the young researcher didn't just have a smart idea, but what it took to drive it through to commercialisation.

"We need more scientists like him, striving to transform their cutting-edge discoveries into new marketable products and services that will change the game for New Zealand."