Making Electric Currents Visible

Making Electric Currents Visible

A research group in Kobe University's Graduate School of Science, led by Associate Professor Kenji Kimura, has developed a magnetic imaging device that makes electric currents visible. The device will go on sale in summer 2012.

"This device gives a picture showing where electric currents are flowing in a circuit. In some cases, we've actually converted the images to measurements. When you charge a battery, electricity accumulates inside, and using this device, you can see where it accumulates. When a battery's been used for a long time, it ages, and it can't be charged anymore. This device shows where inside the battery is damaged and can't be charged. You can do diagnostics, like with X-rays and MRI in hospitals, but for batteries instead. That's the kind of device we're actually presenting here."

The main feature of this device is, it measures magnetism arising from inside the battery, and uses that data to solve Maxwell's equations in 3D. Solving these basic equations for electric and magnetic fields gives a clear picture of how electricity moves deep inside the battery. Professor Kimura's group is currently considering how to utilize the magnetic imaging device for batteries.

"There are lots of high-performance batteries. But while they're being used, their performance deteriorates. The causes and locations of battery deterioration aren't well understood. But if we can see what's happening inside, it'll be possible to make batteries with very high performance."

Also, in the near future, the researchers plan to start developing medical diazgnostic equipment.

"At hospitals, MRI and CT scans are done inside a chamber. For MRI, the patient has to keep still for 20 minutes or so. With our method, internal imaging is done by measuring magnetism from the surface. We think that, using this method, abnormalities inside the body could be detected very fast - and with high resolution."

This device will be marketed and manufactured by Integral Geometry Instruments, a Kobe University venture. The company aims to tie up with electronics companies and automakers, and in due course, with medical instrument manufacturers. The price for this system hasn't been decided yet, but it's expected to be 20-30 million yen ($250,000-375,000).

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