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Kyla Smith


Can we build a better MRI?

Graduate student Kyla Smith is developing a silent and more accessible solution

July 2, 2018 — 

If you’ve ever had an MRI, you already know its challenges.

Wait times for this diagnostic tool (known as magnetic resonance imaging) can be long, given the high demand. And the test itself is not entirely pleasant—you lie down in a confined space and are told not to move while the machine hammers loudly around you.

It can be anxiety-inducing yet it’s still the preferred imaging option for many diagnoses, and, unlike x-ray and CT, it has no radiation dose.

Physics graduate student and 3MT finalist Kyla Smith wants to help build a better MRI. She’s developing a magnet for a new type of MRI machine, which would spatially encode the body’s signals using radio frequency waves instead of the more traditional (and loud) field gradients.

This new technology is called Transmit Array Spatial Encoding, or TRASE. Smith says it means the machines could run silently and eventually be less expensive to purchase for medical markets that haven’t previously had access to MRI machines.

She is working on this technology under the mentorship of academic supervisors Christopher Bidinosti and Scott King, in partnership with the University of Winnipeg and the National Research Council. Smith says the real-world benefits include greater efficiency, shorter wait times and less patient stress.

“TRASE MRI is an exciting and promising innovation in MRI technology, and contributing to work in this field, in even a small way, feels really good,” says Smith.

Before she was a researcher, Smith followed her childhood dream of becoming an educator. As a high school physics teacher it was her students who inspired her to have the courage and make the leap to return to school.

“When the opportunity for graduate school came up, I realized that the real reason I had never considered it before was because I thought I couldn’t do it. And how could I promote to my physics students that they are capable of learning if I thought there was a limit to my own ability? So here I am, happily proving that my students were right.”

Now she combines her love of teaching with her passion for science and physics by volunteering at the annual Science Rendezvous for school-aged kids hosted by the Faculty of Science.

This carnival-like-event on campus creates a fun environment to introduce children to science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) at an early age.

“Even now, as a researcher, I’m still an educator. I think the work of teachers is very important,” says Smith. “If there are two things I can talk anyone’s ear off about, they are the importance of good teachers and the value and awesomeness of physics.”

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Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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