“Room Temperature Magnetometer Arrays for Brain Imaging in Behaving Animals and Humans”

By Dr. Massood Tabib-Azar, USTAR Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept.

Monday, April 13, 2015 from 3:05 – 3:55 p.m. in WEB 1230


The main objective of this talk is to discuss our efforts to develop large arrays of magnetometers with femto (10-15) Tesla magnetic field sensitivity and 1 ms response time. The arrays will be used to non-invasively map brain neuron firings with spatial resolution of 100 microns in humans in their natural environment. Successful applications of these arrays may lead to fundamental advances in neuroscience, allowing combined spatial and temporal resolutions orders of magnitude better than any other noninvasive techniques. It may also lead to advances in basic neuroscience as well as applications to hundreds of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Our magnetometers are based on nano-electromechanical resonant devices that synchronously detect time varying magnetic fields generated by currents (1-100 nA) generated in axons when neurons fire. Compared to fMRI, the proposed magnetometers are portable and have much higher spatial and temporal resolutions, they do not require external magnetic fields and they do not require magnetic contrasting agents. Compared to EEG, the magnetic field is not affected by the skull or the intervening brain material while the electric potential detected by the EEG is attenuated and affected as it travels through different inhomogeneous regions of the brain. Moreover, the EEG electrodes are required to be in intimate contact with the skin while the magnetometers can be placed over the hair. Superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs) and atomic vapor magnetometers readily achieve 10-15 to 10-16 Tesla sensitivity but SQUID requires cooling down to liquid helium temperatures and atomic vapor devices consume > 50 mW and both are relatively large compared to our devices that can be as small as 10 mm and very low power (~mW). We are utilizing the recent advances in multiferroic materials and novel microfabrication techniques such as atomic layer deposition to design and fabricate the proposed magnetometer arrays.

This research is partially supported by the NSF EAGER program and USTAR.


Massood Tabib-Azar received M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1984 and 1986, respectively. In 1987 he joined the faculty of EECS department at Case Western Reserve University. He was a fellow at NASA during 1992-1992, on Sabbatical at Harvard University during 93-94, and at Yale University during 2000-2001. He was a Program Director at the ECCS Division of National Science Foundation during 2012-2013 Academic Year. Since January 2009, Massood is a USTAR Professor of ECE at the University of Utah, Electrical and Computer Eng. Department with an adjunct appointment in Bioengineering Department. His current research interests include nanometrology, molecular electronics, micro-plasma devices, nano-electromechanical computers, novel devices based on solid electrolytes (memristors), ultrasensitive sensors and actuators, brain imaging devices, microfluidics, and quantum computing. His teaching interests include development of courses in the area of electronic device physics and electromagnetics with an emphasis on solving problems and the use of computer-aided instruction tools. He is author of three books, two book chapters, more than 220 journal publications, and numerous conference proceeding articles. He has introduced and chairs many international symposia in his fields of interest. He is interested in “Injectable Bio Implants”, “Novel Communication Methods with Cells and Implantables”, “Quantum Sensing Methods”, and techniques to increase efficiencies of photo-synthesis for sun-to-fuel conversion devices. He is an editor of the IEEE Electron Device Letters and contributes to the organization of many international conferences.

Dr. Tabib-Azar is a recipient of the 1991 Lilly Foundation Fellowship and he is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, IEEE (Electron Devices), APS, AAPT, and Sigma Xi research societies. He has also received more than 14 certificate of appreciation and recognition for his professional activities and a best paper award from Design Automation conference in 2001 for his work on electromagnetic properties of interconnects and defects in ICs, a best paper award from International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in 2004 for his work on Human-Machine Interface, and a best paper award from ISQED for his work on NEMS Processors in 2011.