The Picker Merit low field magnetic resonance scanner represents a failed gamble in the history of MR-scanning in Danish public hospitals. Developed around 1990 by Instrumentarium in Finland , a company that was shortly after bought by Picker, the scanner was an attempt to go against the current trend at the time towards ever more powerful scanners. Supported by belief in the Overhauser effect, Picker believed that low field scanners could produce high-resolution images, and in stead of trying to make a stronger magnetic field, they worked to reduce any interference from the electrical parts of the machine. The result was a scanner that was much cheaper and lighter (1.350k), than contemporary high field imaging systems.
In 1992, the radiology department at Herlev Sygehus decided to aquire the Picker Merit scanner. This was controversial since the prospects of low field scanning were contested, and the department was ridiculed by other hospitals. Still, MR-scanning was still in its early days, and it was difficult to know what the future might bring. Also contributing to the decision was the fact that this particular type of scanner would allow for a research project on contrast fluids in cooperation with Danish pharmaceutical company Nycomed, who would also sponsor the maintenance costs of the instrument. Therefore, the scanner was brought in, through a donation from the A. P. Møller trust.
Low field imaging turned out to be a dead end, but the scanner nevertheless remained in operation at Herlev until 2001. Since service and maintenance was carried out by representatives based in Finland, staff at the department in Herlev were often forced to perform repairs themselves, and local and quite informal practices of operation evolved around this particular piece of machinery. After having been taken out of actual clinical work, the scanner was stripped of its outer casing, exposing the core magnet and the copper windings, and was used for training new personel in the workings of MR-scanners. By that time, Pickers, who had changed its name to Marconi, had been bought by Phillips, and the radiology department in Herlev now has extensive cooperation with that company, testing new software and hardware.
Because of upcoming renovations in the MR-centre, Herlev sygehus wanted to get rid of the scanner, and offered it to the Medical Museion. The museum decided not to accept the scanner since in its amputated state it had little value in a museum setting. The museum did, however, interview key personel about the history of this particular scanner and secured images of it. These items are a valuable contribution to the museums collections of material related to diagnostic imaging devices. But the case also points to problems. The Medical Museion does not have an MR-scanner in its collections. And since this technology plays an increasing role in modern diagnostics and treatment monitoring, this could be seen as a serious fault. Yet contemporary high field scanners are enormous machines, as big as a car and weighing 35 tons. Even if the forces, magnetism and radio waves, that allow high-resoultion images of the body to be taken are intangible, the apparatus that harnesses and directs these forces is massive. An attraction in any exhibition, perhaps, but possibly also the worst nightmare of any museum administrator.
Is it time to think about alternative ways of collecting and conserving the much-too-tangible parts of the biomedical heritage? Can fotos, video recordings and interviews provide a sufficiently detailed impression of what these machines were like?