How It Works
Reconstructed neuronal connections in the brain. Thomas Schultz.

Monster telescope could unlock high-res images of the universe and brain

Reconstructed neuronal connections in the brain. Thomas Schultz.

New imaging techniques could unlock secrets of the universe, as well as provide detailed information about the brain.

A team of astrophysicists, engineers and computer scientists are conducting research to develop radio interferometric telescope arrays, instruments that record and correlate electromagnetic waves to provide high-resolution images. The data collected does not provide immediately recognisable visual images, but complex mathematical algorithms are used to recover them.

These monster telescopes, such as the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) planned for 2023, will create images with much higher resolution and sensitivity than ever before, collecting so much data in a single day that it would take nearly 2 million years to play it back on an iPod.

Artist’s impression of the Square Kilometre Array at night. SKA Organisation.
Artist’s impression of the Square Kilometre Array at night. SKA Organisation.

SKA antennas will be built across Africa and Australia to record details of the sky, and hopefully unravel mysteries of the universe, but this technology can also be used for medical purposes too.

High angular resolution diffusion MRI probes the direction of water diffusion at each point in the brain with the aim of reconstructing global neuronal pathways. This will provide new diagnostic methodologies for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, typical scan times are far too long for clinical application at present, due to the exceptionally large data volumes of interest.

Reconstructed neuronal connections in the brain. Thomas Schultz.
Reconstructed neuronal connections in the brain. Thomas Schultz.

Dr Yves Wiaux at Heriot-Watt University’s Institute of Sensors, Signals, and Systems (ISSS) and Dr Jason McEwen at University College London’s (UCL) Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) have been awarded £2 million ($3.1 million) over three years from UK research councils to develop these imaging techniques and speed up the process of compressing the data.

To discover more incredible imagery, and find out how we see the world, pick up issue 66 of How It Works magazine in print or download the digital edition.