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Spotlight: The Creative Minds Working Behind the Scenes on Agents of MRI Contrast

Sam Oberdick and Gary Zabow pose for a picture, standing together with lab equipment in the background.
Credit: R. Wilson/NIST

You might not recognize these two faces from such NIST social media hits as “microprinting with candy” and “molds for microparticles,” but they were behind that work the whole time. 

Meet NIST researchers Sam Oberdick and Gary Zabow, two of the creative minds working with magnetic imaging on our campus in Boulder, Colorado. Those hits listed above could be classified as side projects for the duo, whose main goal is to study contrast agents for magnetic imaging. 

But these aren’t the typical contrast agents administered to patients while they’re waiting for an MRI. 

Sam and Gary are working on microscale and nanoscale magnetic devices that can be used with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to enhance images and highlight biological activity — such as tracking individual cells to see how they move. 

This work coincides with efforts from other members of their NIST group, who are measuring MRI machines that use lower-strength magnetic fields. The low-field MRIs could be portable, cheaper alternatives to the bulky machines using high magnetic field strengths in hospitals. 

But low-field MRI machines have been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for only a few years. There hasn’t been much work to develop the nanoparticle contrast agents for these machines. 

So, between the headliners that keep social media strange and unique, that’s the challenge Sam and Gary dedicate their efforts toward. 

In case you missed it, these are the hits we referenced before:

Follow us on social media for more like this from all across NIST!

Released July 7, 2023, Updated July 28, 2023