Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In search of a scoop

Ever in search of an exclusive scoop to whet the appetites of the Vision Systems Design readers, I often spend the evenings trawling through numerous announcements that have been made by researchers on scientific web sites such as Eurekalert and Alphagalileo.

This week, through my web surfing activity, I came across the news that a group of researchers in the US and the UK have developed a means to put MRI scanners to work capturing images of the surfaces of the conductors found in lithium-ion batteries.

As many of you know, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a medical imaging technique widely used in radiology that can create detailed images of structures within the body.

However, the strong magnetic fields that are used in such systems make them unsuitable for use with patients with metal implants because the conducting surfaces block the radio-frequency fields used in the systems.

Now, researchers at Cambridge University (Cambridge, UK), Stony Brook University (Stony Brook, NY, USA), and New York University (NYU; New York, NY, USA) have turned that limitation into a virtue, using an MRI scanner to directly visualize the build-up of lithium metal deposits on the electrodes of lithium-ion batteries.

Their work visualizing small changes on the surface of the batteries' electrodes might in principle allow many different battery designs and materials to be tested under normal operating conditions.

Indeed, Professor Alexej Jerschow from the Department of Chemistry at NYU said that using such noninvasive MRI systems could provide insights into the microscopic processes inside batteries, which hold the key to eventually making them lighter, safer, and more versatile.

I'm sure that one day they might be able to. Especially considering the number of other research groups across the world that are also using such MRI imaging systems to study electrochemically induced structural changes in batteries. You only have to perform a Google search of the scientific literature to find out just how many there are.

So while the news might be interesting, it wasn't exactly the scoop that I was looking for when I began my search for an exclusive "new technology." Then again, perhaps the story simply illustrates the point that very few researchers work in isolation, and that innovative ideas often occur as a result of methodical, cooperative scientific effort and rarely through one single individual's "Eureka" moment.

Those who are interested in learning more about the technique can find a complete technical description at

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