By providing information about the brain function of premature and newborn infants in intensive care, the scanner negates the need to move critically ill babies to conventional scanning facilities, which has a degree of risk.
A prototype using the advantages of magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound, while avoiding their disadvantages, incorporates a technique called optical tomography to generate images.
A helmet incorporating 32 light detectors and 32 sources of safe, low-intensity laser light is placed on a baby's head. The sources produce short flashes and the detectors measure the time the light takes to travel. A software package builds a 3D image that can show which parts of the brain are receiving oxygen, where blood is situated, evidence of brain damage, etc.
The prototype is the size of a refrigerator and takes around 8 minutes to generate an image. The scientists are now trying produce a version half that size and five times faster.