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An international team of physicists and neuroscientists has made a breakthrough in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that makes brain scanning more than 7 times faster.

A physicist from the University of California, Berkeley and colleagues at the University of Minnesota and Oxford University, UK described two improvements that allow full 3-dimensional brain scans in less than half a second, instead of the typical 2 to 3 seconds.

For neuroscience, in particular, fast scans are critical for capturing the dynamic activity in the brain.

The faster scans are made possible by combining two technical improvements invented in the past decade that separately boosted scanning speeds two to four times over what was already the fastest MRI technique, echo planar imaging (EPI).

Magnetic resonance imaging works by using a magnetic field and radio waves to probe the environment of hydrogen atoms in water molecules in the body.

Because hydrogen atoms in blood, for example, respond differently than atoms in bone or tissue, computers can reconstruct the body’s interior landscape without the use of penetrating X-rays.

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