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Delicate operation

New 3T Whole-body Magnet Now Installed in its New Home in the Beckman Institute

Published on Sept. 8, 2009

Installation of $3.2M Magnet Successful Milestone in Ongoing Facilities Switch

Tracey Wszalek and Mike Smith stood on the edges of the ground-level opening to the Beckman Institute basement watching as a skilled crane operator cautiously lowered a brand new $3.2M, 14-ton magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine into the concrete pit with just a foot or two to spare on each of the four sides. With the crane coming perilously close to the emerald green bay windows on the Institute’s north side, the magnet was lowered down onto stacks of plastic and wood pallets in the basement, from where it was eventually moved into its location in the new Beckman basement facilities for the Institute’s Biomedical Imaging Center (BIC).

For Wszalek, Associate Director of BIC, and Smith, Associate Director for Operations at the Beckman Institute, the installation of the new magnet marked yet another milestone in the more than year long switch of BIC’s facilities with those of Beckman’s Illinois Simulator Laboratory. And another success as the newest addition to the BIC MRI lineup, a whole-body 3T MRI scanner from Siemens called the MAGNETOM Trio, was installed on July 8th and ramped up and running smoothly a couple of days later.

For their parts, Smith and Wszalek said they weren’t worried as the expensive new magnet was moved from the truck to the basement opening and into the pit. For one reason, Beckman didn’t take possession until it was installed and working properly. Secondly, both were confident in the people and planning that were integral to the operation.

“It was terribly exciting,” Wszalek said of the installation of the new magnet. “It is amazing how quickly you can become attached to some hunk of metal, but I think it is because of the possibilities it represents. Then you marvel at the coming together of so many trades and disciplines to make something happen. I was confident that Mike had the right people.”

“If you come up with a sound plan and you have the right crew of people to do it, and you put the right team together and you manage them and respect their opinions, you really don’t have a lot to fear,” Smith said.
The successful installation was just one of many moves over the past year as the BIC facility is being relocated from its original building on the south campus into the Beckman Institute and the Illinois Simulator Laboratory (ISL) is being moved into the former BIC building.

Much of the complicated switch has been accomplished but there is still more work to do, including moving the ISL’s driving simulator from the basement into the south campus building. Moving the driving simulator out will allow BIC’s 3T head-scanner magnet to be moved into the basement (planned for Oct. 10th), marking the final step in the operation. Installing and ramping up the state-of-the-art Siemens Trio magnet was a milestone indicating the process is nearing completion.

Smith said the magnet was shipped by air from Germany to Chicago in a trailer truck that also contained its accompanying pieces. It was moved into place July 8th, with a cloudburst delaying things for an hour or so. Just as workers were attaching the crane cables to the magnet rain forced them to re-cover the magnet with the accordion-like shell of the trailer until the storm passed.

Once the skies cleared and the magnet was lowered into the basement, it was moved from the bottom of the pit to the specially-designed room in a process called “cribbing” that involved using plastic crates and wooden beams and boards for support, and hydraulic jacks combined with old-fashioned manpower to muscle the 28,000-pound machine into place.

Special radio frequency (RF) shielded rooms were built for the incoming magnets to ensure safety and prevent vibration effects from the instruments. The new magnet was ramped up and running a few days after its installation, followed by testing and training procedures.

BIC research scientist Harish Sharma and Beckman Institute faculty member and MRI researcher Brad Sutton checked out the new machine in a process called acceptance testing. In August BIC technicians who will be operating the machine were given training by Siemens personnel and it was tested with human subjects.

"It’s amazing to see it sitting there running. All the prep work was worth it. The machine is providing fabulous images and the site was prepared phenomenally well."
– Tracey Wszalek, BIC Associate Director

Wszalek expects it to be ready for experiments by the first week of October. As with the installation, the performance of the new magnet so far has been flawless.

“It’s incredibly complex and had to be orchestrated down to the minute,” she said. “It’s amazing to see it sitting there running. All the prep work was worth it. The machine is providing fabulous images and the site was prepared phenomenally well.”

Among its many capabilities, the Trio can do the same type of brain imaging as the Allegra headscanner but Wszalek said researchers who have been using the Allegra will continue to do so for their current projects and then switch to the Trio for new ventures. The Trio will not only offer more comprehensive imaging possibilities than the Allegra but it also features wireless sensors for monitoring pulse and oxygenation, heart rate, and respiration that will make for better imaging for some projects.

“You don’t introduce current or any other electrical noise into your system,” Wszalek said of the wireless sensors. “We hadn’t used that on any other system. It is important for some folks because they will use that information as they design their experiments, say if motion is an issue.”

Within 24 hours of the magnet being installed, the two wall holes it was moved through were each enclosed with RF-shield walls, surrounded by gypsum walls on either side. In addition to the RF-shielded room and a console room for the Trio, the renovation work included creating a reception area, a lockerroom and rooms for test subject preparation.
Those were all part of the original plans for putting BIC’s facilities into the basement. However, because of rapidly increasing interest in using those facilities and because of several successful and pending grants, more plans involving BIC are on the table. Grant proposals for the acquisition of an animal magnet are pending, while BIC’s staff and its space within the Institute are growing.

Plans are being made for more space for BIC in room 1215. BIC’s mock magnets, which familiarize test subjects with the actual magnets, were located in room 1215B as part of the move. In order to create room for BIC’s growing staff, plans are under way to turn 1215A, a conference room, into space for personnel and to create offices for BIC staff along the south side of Beckman next to the rotunda.

Hopefully, that project will go as smoothly as the switch of BIC and ISL has gone.

“I’m very happy,” Smith said. “Everything worked exactly as I thought it would. We’re either ahead of schedule or on schedule.”