New Worlds: Weizmann Institute instrument bound for Jupiter

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March 6, 2016 00:34

“This is the first time that an Israeli-built device will be carried beyond the Earth’s orbit.”

4 minute read.



Weizmann Institute of Science

Weizmann Institute of Science. (photo credit: MICHAEL JACOBSON/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Sometime in the year 2030, if all goes according to plan, some dozen groups around the world will begin receiving unique data streams sent from just above the planet Jupiter. Their instruments, which will include a device designed and constructed in Rehovot, will arrive there aboard the JUICE (JUpiter ICy satellite Explorer) spacecraft, a mission planned by the European Space Agency (ESA) to investigate the properties of the solar system’s largest planet and several of its moons. Among other things, the research groups participating in JUICE hope to discover whether the conditions for life exist anywhere in the vicinity of the planet.

“This is the first time that an Israeli-built device will be carried beyond the Earth’s orbit,” says Dr. Yohai Kaspi of the institute’s Earth and planetary sciences department, who is the principle investigator on this effort. The project, conducted in collaboration with an Italian team from the University of Rome, is called 3GM (Gravity & Geophysics of Jupiter and Galilean Moons).

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The JUICE teams are preparing for a launch in 2022.

That gives them three years to get the various instruments ready and another three to assemble and test the craft. In the long wait – eight years – from launch to arrival, Kaspi intends to work on building theoretical models that can be tested against the data they will receive from their instruments.

The Israeli contribution to the project is an atomic clock that will measure tiny vacillations in a radio beam provided by the Italian team. This clock must be so accurate it would lose less than a second in 100,000 years, so Kaspi has turned to the Israeli firm AccuBeat, which manufactures clocks that are used in high-tech aircraft, among other things. Its engineers, together with Kaspi and his team, have spent the last two years in R & D to design a device that should not only meet the experiment’s strict demands but also survive the eight-year trip and function in the conditions of space. Their design was recently approved for flight by the European Space Agency; the Science, Technology and Space Ministry in Jerusalem will fund the research, building and assembly of the device.

For around two and a half years as JUICE orbits Jupiter, the 3GM team will investigate the planet’s atmosphere by intercepting radio waves traveling through the gas, timing them and measuring the angle at which the waves are deflected. This will enable them to decipher the atmosphere’s makeup.

During flybys of three of the planet’s moons – Europa, Ganymede and Callisto – the 3GM instruments will help search for tides. Researchers observing these moons have noted fluctuations in the gravity of these moons, suggesting the large mass of Jupiter is creating tides in liquid oceans beneath their hard, icy exteriors.

By measuring the variations in gravity, the researchers hope to learn how large these oceans are, what they are made of, and even whether their conditions might harbor life.

METAMATERIALS BOOST MRI SENSITIVITY A group of researchers from Russia, Australia and the Netherlands have developed a technology that can reduce magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning times by more than 50 percent, meaning hospitals can drastically increase the number of scans without changing equipment. This extraordinary leap in efficiency is achieved by placing a layer of metamaterials onto the bed of the scanner, which improves the signal-to-noise ratio. The details of this experimental research are available in the current issue of Advanced Materials. This patent-pending technology is currently being co-developed by MediWise, a UK-based company that specializes in commercializing metamaterials for medical applications.

MRI is one of the key methods of modern diagnostics that have found wide applications in medicine, biology and neurology and helps monitor the subtlest of physiological changes in our internal organs. For example, a timely MRI procedure can detect tissues affected by cancer in the earliest stage of the disease. The possibility of effective MRI diagnostics, however, depends almost entirely on the quality of resulting MRI images.

Scientists from Russia’s ITMO University, Institute of Experimental Medicine RAMS and Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute, the Australian National University and University Medical Center Utrecht demonstrated that the quality of MRI images could be substantially increased with the aid of metamaterials - artificial periodic structures that can interact with electromagnetic radiation in an extraordinary fashion.

”This is the first real demonstration of the practical potential of metamaterials for MRI imaging enhancement and scanning time reduction. Our research may evolve into new healthcare applications and commercial products,” said study coauthor Yuri Kivshar of the Australian university.

By placing a specially designed metamaterial under the studied object in an MRI scanner, it is possible to increase the signal-to-noise ratio in the scanned area.

The result of this increase is that either a higher resolution image can be obtained over the same time slot or faster examination can be performed with the same resolution as in an ordinary MRI scanner. In addition, the metamaterial suppresses the electric field, which is responsible for tissue heating – a phenomenon that may compromise the safety of the whole MRI procedure.

The scientific group managed to entirely avoid tissue heating, at the same time preserving high resolution.

The solution, in essence, does not require any intervention into the hardware of the MRI scanner, but rather represents an inexpensive functional add-on device that can be used with any existing MRI scanner. The duration of an MRI exam also presumes inconveniences for patients. In ordinary MRI devices, the scanning may last from 15 to 60 minutes and during this time the patient must remain completely immovable. The possibility of achieving detailed images in a shorter time slot will make the procedure more comfortable for the patient and in the long view could even reduce queue time in hospitals.


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