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Past Winner
2008 NSERC Doctoral Prize

Andrew Marble

Electrical and Computer Engineering

University of New Brunswick

Andrew Marble
Andrew Marble

Doctoral research done by Andrew Marble at the University of New Brunswick is opening doors to new uses for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Thanks to groundbreaking design methods, he has developed patented technology for single-sided, or unilateral, magnets that could take MRI from a specialized laboratory-based technology to one used routinely in various industrial and diagnostic situations. His work has earned him an NSERC Doctoral Prize.

Traditional MRI machines require placing the object to be scanned between two magnets or inside a uniform magnetic field generated by an electrical coil. Unilateral magnets, in contrast, do not need to completely enclose the object and so allow users to scan a much greater range of sizes and types of materials. They are also much smaller, typically about 10-20 cm square in size, although they can be scaled up. That means they can be designed into handheld or desktop devices.

Unilateral magnets are not new, but have historically been produced on an ad hoc basis for a single, specific purpose. Dr. Marble's process, which has attracted considerable interest from other researchers and offers significant commercial potential, involves a new theoretical approach that makes it possible to systematically design magnets for multiple purposes. He basically inverted the design process, first deciding what type of magnetic field he needed, then developing mathematical algorithms to design a magnet that could produce such a field.

MRI machines are best known as diagnostic tools in medicine, but they also have important industrial applications. For example, Dr. Marble has worked on magnets capable of detecting moisture inside an aircraft panel without first removing the panel, as well as one that can be used on board a fishing boat to conduct an on-the-spot analysis of such things as fat content in fish. Others have used this technology to probe the bitumen content of oil sands.

Dr. Marble's work on unilateral magnets also earned him a $5,000 runner-up prize last year in the NSERC Innovation Challenge, a competition that challenges students to identify potential products of services stemming from their doctoral research.