TIFR scientists find bismuth superconductor can lower MRI cost 100 times

Mumbai/New Delhi: A scientific breakthrough in Mumbai can bring down the cost of Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI machines by 100 times, claim scientists.

A team of scientists from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research has discovered that metal Bismuth can conduct electricity without any resistance, making it a superconductor.

The superconducting property, the scientists say, is a unique state of matter that has many applications and is very costly to achieve. The discovery is being touted to rewrite a four-decade old Nobel Prize winning theory that explains how metals become superconducting.

Prof S Ramakrishnan, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, says, “We have discovered superconductivity in Bismuth and to explain this, we need a new theory and a new mechanism. Once that comes out, we will probably have a new class of superconductors.”

After unsuccessful global efforts for decades, the team calls this finding a fundamental scientific breakthrough. In order to achieve this, the scientists placed metallic Bismuth in very cold temperature to make it lose all resistance to electricity.

Currently, the MRI machines use superconductors made of an alloy called Niobium-Titanium and a good machine costs Rs 10 crore.

The team says that the applications of the discovery could take long but it promises to lower the cost of high end diagnostic machines.

Dr Arumugam Thamizhavel, Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, says, “Currently, there are no theories that can explain Bismuth’s superconductivity. This is a different type of superconductivity as compared to others. The theorists are working on it now and new theories may come out. Right now, MRI scans are possible only because of a superconducting magnet, so this discovery can find its application in some years.”

According to the scientists, the MRI machines use superconductors made of an alloy called Niobium-Titanium and if superconductors of Bismuth will be used, the cost of an MRI machine could come down by a 100 times.

The current cost of a good MRI machine is Rs 10 crore.

The discovery has been published in the current issue of ‘Science’ journal (Washington DC).