A Wellington company is helping to unlock secrets held deep within the Earth. Magritek’s nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology has been used everywhere from Antarctica to major oil fields and even in a chocolate factory.
While not everyone knows about the physics of NMR, many people will have come across its application in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) devices used in hospitals. These devices provide high-resolution images of the structure of the human body for diagnostic purposes. What Magritek is doing is taking the MRI out of the hospital and taking it into surprising new places.
Magritek created the world’s only MRI teaching device, Terranova-MRI. This is an affordable ‘lab in a box’ that can go to places that bulkier MRI machines cannot. It was first developed for a research trip to Antarctica. After that trip, Magritek realised that a robust, portable MRI device would be useful to look inside items such as rocks, living plants and foods.
Meanwhile, Magritek’s newest tool, the Rock Core Analyzer, is helping the oil and gas industry. Contrary to popular perception, oil fields are not large pools of easily accessible liquid – rather, the oil is stored in the pores of rocks. The Rock Core Analyzer helps the oil industry to understand how liquid moves in and out of those pores, and this ultimately enables more oil to be extracted.
Helmed by 2011 New Zealander of the Year Professor Paul Callaghan and harnessing talent from Massey University and Victoria University of Wellington, Magritek is using this amazing technology to develop more MRI products for customers all over the world.
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What do chocolate, oil and the human body have in common? A kiwi company can see their secrets.
MRI machines show slices of the inside of the human body. What we’re seeing is feedback from the hydrogen atoms in our body’s water
It takes a big machine to see something so tiny… or does it.
Magritek in Wellington makes small portable MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices. They’re up to a 50th of the price of the medical version, plus they’re good for industry and academia.
The science of magnetic resonance is we think, is quite wonderful.
First used for research on Antarctic sea ice their terranova is the world’s only MRI teaching device introducing students to MRI globally.
The terranova, we can put a sample in there like an orange and we can actually do a full MRI image of that.
“The brighter bits show where the water is.”
Inside the MRI device is a magnetic field which the nuclei at the heart of the hydrogen atoms lines up with. The MRI device sends radio waves at the nuclei which knock them off balance as if they’ve been kicked. As the nuclei return to balance they send out a signal of their own, and if the frequency is low enough we can even hear it.
(Ping) The ping that’s the sound of all the nuclei singing together in harmony. It’s beautiful.
By measuring those signals we can tell all sorts of things about the molecule and the environment that it’s in.
These days Magritek’s environment is less in education and more in industry. Early MRI devices included factory owners checking the viscosity of their chocolate….then things got deep.
Our biggest innovative device at the moment is our rock core analyser. This is a industrial instrument that we built for the Oil and Gas industry to help them measure and understand the porous nature of the rocks in oil reservoirs.
(In the laboratory)
“This is a sample of rock from an oil field reservoir and the 1st thing we do is saturate it in here with water.”
The misconception about oilfields is that you have a large hole in the ground that’s full of oil, and you drill a well into it and you sort of suck the oil out of it like you’re sucking a straw in a drink. In reality the oil is trapped inside these very, very small pores inside rocks.
(In the laboratory)
“We take the rock which is saturated and put it in the sample holder.”
Our device enables them to understand how the liquids move in and out of those pores. Because they can see which pores are filled with liquid and which pores aren’t, they can start to get an understanding of how that liquid is moving through the rock.
In a typical reservoir up to 50% of the oil is left in the ground. Using information from MRI, more oil can be extracted…in some cases for good use.
It’s a fantastic chemical soup that you’ve got there. It’s used on roads, it’s used in manufacturing pharmaceuticals, it’s used in all sorts of areas, and all of those applications are not, they’re not a problem in terms of global warming.
Last year exports for this 6 year old company went up by 80%. Now with funding from the Ministry of Science and Innovation, Magritek is developing a secret new MRI device for extra precision in industry.
For us magnetic resonance is just this wonderful exciting incredible phenomena. If we can make this the kind of success that I hope it can be, it will be a fantastic story for us personally, but a fantastic story for New Zealand and a fantastic story for science.
This is part of the Innovation Stories series produced in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Innovation, it featured on TVNZ 7 during the Spotlight on Science + Innovation month in August 2011.