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Ph.D Study Openings, Zero,G MRI Project

Ph.D Study Openings, Zero-G MRI Project

Biomedical Engineering

Three openings for Ph.D. study projects are available that support the Zero-G MRI project (Suborbital Development and Testing of a Space Flight Astronaut Magnetic Resonance Imager), a project funded by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) with the goal of flying a prototype wrist magnetic resonance imager (MRI) on a series of zero-g parabolic jet flights. The three projects are as follows.

Physiology PhD project. Current research uses high field MRI to study bone and muscle structure for assessing strength, density, fat content (for muscle), etc. at an image resolution of much less than 1mm. The proposed RF encoding low-field zero-g MRI and follow-on space MRIs will not be able to attain such high resolution. So this project will focus on how lower image resolution may be used to provide the necessary physiologically relevant information. It may be that MRI data will need to be combined with other methods like ultrasonography or biochemical blood or urine assays to form a data vector capable of providing a better estimate of parameters like bone strength. An alternative, or possible complementary, approach will be through image processing. Current research has made use of information extracted from finite element models based on x-ray CT or MRI images and it will be of interest to know how these approaches may be used on lower resolution MRI data. The spatial resolution of gathered MRI data may be improved, for example, by working with projections (integrated cross-sections) to obtain spatially averaged values for physiological parameters like density and fat content. Simple NMR spin-lattice (T1) and spin-spin (T2) measurement focused on isolated voxels may also be used to measure spatially averaged values of physiological parameters. Such measurements could easily be made with the proposed zero-g MRI and the main focus of the PhD Physiology Preflight work will be to determine which of these alternative approaches to imaging will be worthwhile to try during the short zero-g flight.

Engineering PhD project focusing on musculoskeletal applications. This project will focus on the continuing development of MRI RF encoding technology and builds on current and past work done on gradient-free MRI by Dr. Sarty. The project will rely on an existing MRI in our laboratory, and will involve optimizing the imaging RF pulse sequence and image reconstruction approaches by using the very flexible Software Defined Radio (SDR) and the ability to transmit variable RF power through a flexible combination of transmit coils. Part of the activity of the PhD Engineering Preflight work will be to define a projection sequence, based on imaging constraints, that will be feasible during the short zero-g imaging periods available during the flight of the zero-g MRI.

Engineering PhD project focusing on radiation applications. This project is the most speculative of the three PhD projects. Diffusion Weighted Imaging (DWI) has proven to be a valuable neurological imaging method providing, for example, the only method capable of showing the penumbra associated with a stroke. More relevant to space travel, DWI has been shown to reveal radiation damage in neural tissue. DWI relies on the ability to dephase proton spins during imaging and this currently requires the application of a strong magnetic field gradient. Dr. Sarty has developed an approach that uses only RF spatial phase gradients to achieve the spin dephasing. It is entirely feasible, however, to test aspects of an RF based DWI pulse sequence during the zero-g MRI flight to evaluate its sensitivity to astronaut hand motion. That testable piece of the DWI sequence will also be developed as part of the PhD Engineering Preflight work.

The zero-g flight itself will be composed of 2 flights with 4 parabolas each in an NRC Falcon 20 jet. As far as possible, the PhD students will be given an opportunity to participate in the flights. Post-flight data will be available to all three PhD students. All HQP trainees will work to prepare a presentation for the 2020 International Aeronautical Congress (IAC). Finishing the PhD projects (thesis preparation and defence, journal article publication) will likely require time after the IAC.

Start date:  May 2017 or September 2017.

How to Apply: Email, as a pdf file or files, a cover letter describing your research interests and how your background and experience match the qualifications described (identify which project you are applying for), your CV, academic transcript, an unofficial copy of TOEFL or equivalent results, if appropriate, and, names and contact information of three references to:

Dr. Gordon E. Sarty, P.Eng.

Division of Biomedical Engineering

University of Saskatchewan

Tel: (306) 966-2321

Selected candidates will be invited to apply to the Biomedical Engineering program for further evaluation of candidate qualifications.

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The University of Saskatchewan is strongly committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace that empowers all employees to reach their full potential. All members of the university community share a responsibility for developing and maintaining an environment in which differences are valued and inclusiveness is practiced. The university welcomes applications from those who will contribute to the diversity of our community. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be given priority.