Browse any medical forum post from someone seeking advice on Magnetic resonance imaging (or MRI scanning as is commonly abbreviated) and you will notice their queries often highlight feelings of apprehension, uncertainty and fear, despite the relative safety of the apparatus involved in such testing.
Using MRI allows doctors to get highly refined visuals of the bodies’ interior by using strong magnets and pulses of radio waves to manipulate the natural magnetic properties in the body, which in turn generates the image. The process is dependant on the patient lying very still while slowly passing through a noisy machine in a claustrophobic process lasting up to half an hour.
Further to this slightly daunting prospect, scans are enhanced by using surface coils, placed around the region of interest (i.e. the head for a brain scan) as conductors, to increase magnetic sensitivity. Having pieces of copper tubing taped to your face (as was initially done) may have created a beautifully detailed image but did nothing to ease your nerves!
Now imagine yourself as a child, preparing to lie down and go through this huge machine in the 1980’s when its exact purpose and safety assurance were less understood.
Ian Young at the Hammersmith Hospital tackled this tricky problem by creating an experimental helmet to get the best possible pictures of a child’s brain, designed in such a way that a child would feel enticed, rather than afraid to wear it!
The helmets were cleverly named after and resemble those used for training by apprentice Jedi knights in the popular ‘Star Wars’ films. The coils on the helmet acted as ‘aerials’ for picking up the MRI signals. It enabled clearer diagnoses of diseases and injuries affecting the brain, without any need for invasive surgery or radiation that was commonly used in other methods of examining such delicate areas.
The Jedi helmet was a great example of turning something seemingly quite unpleasant into something far more bearable through an aesthetically appealing design and clever wording.
Can you think of any scientific instruments or devices that could be redesigned or renamed to make them seem more appealing?
Our Jedi helmets can be found in the Health Matters Gallery on the Third Floor of the museum.