From the Director Summer 2014 Issue 32

From the Director

Robert Desimone, Director of the McGovern Institute. Photo: Kent Dayton
Robert Desimone, Director of the McGovern Institute. Photo: Kent Dayton

Anyone who has used a compass can appreciate the delicacy of an instrument that reveals the otherwise imperceptible magnetic field of the Earth. Imagine, though, an instrument capable of detecting a magnetic signal a billion times smaller than this. That’s what it takes to measure brain activity using magnetoencephalography (MEG), a brain imaging technology that we have recently installed here at the McGovern Institute.

MEG works in a way that is fundamentally different from the more familiar MRI scanner. Unlike MRI, it involves no external magnetic field. Instead, it uses an array of extraordinarily sensitive detectors, chilled to near absolute zero by liquid  helium, to measure the tiny magnetic fields that are naturally produced by our brains and whose rapid fluctuations, recorded at the surface of the head, can reveal profound insights into what’s happening inside.

MEG scanners are not cheap, but with the help of several generous donors we were able to acquire a state-of-art system in 2011, and I am happy to report that our investment is starting to bear rich fruit. I have been using MEG in my own research on attention, and it is also used by many other groups within and beyond MIT, to study questions ranging from vision to autism. We can’t predict what they will discover next, but I am confident that when we put powerful technology within reach of an unparalleled community of brain researchers, exciting science is sure to emerge.

Bob Desimone, Director
Doris and Don Berkey Professor of Neuroscience

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