Tom Scott discovers how Jedi Helmets helped with MRI scanning

From technology that helped us conquer
Everest to a cruise missile, the Science Museum Group has a collection of over
7 million items. Today I will discover how Star Wars helped a
generation of children to undergo brain scans in another story from the stores. These are actually… can I touch the label? You’re allowed to touch the label. These
these are actually labeled Jedi Helmet, which is amazing. These aren’t actual
Star Wars props I’m guessing? No they’re not, but they are actually named after
the helmets worn by people in the Return of the Jedi film in 1983, so as
you can guess they date from the early 1980s. What were they used for? They were actually used for really early MRI imaging, specifically for children, and these came from Hammersmith Hospital who donated them to us in the early 1990s. With early MRI, the problem was that with
smaller children’s brains you could not get the image quality that you had from
adults, so what they did was they essentially made a radio aerial. Wow!
I thought it would be water going through that tubing. No,
they’re entirely copper and they would have been connected to a computer. The
way that MRI works is that giant magnets change the spin of atoms in our
bodies and then the signals get picked up and made into pictures. So these just
helped enhance the images. The machine that came with these was
actually really beige and looked really almost like a prototype itself. You can imagine a child going in there. Would the helmet make that better?
Well I think because they’re called Jedi Helmets kids would go ah right I can
put this on and I can be a Jedi. The team actually experimented a lot on
their own children and so they knew the technology was safe but they needed to
know this worked. Some of these are clearly just rigged together because
that looks like a colander from a kitchen! It is. Some of my
favorite ones are actually the ones that say things like astronaut. What did these
become? Did they just become obsolete because technology got better?
These prototypes actually went on to become commercially
available but as machines got stronger, and the magnets got more powerful, you didn’t necessarily need something like this. What’s so special about these for you?
When I first encountered them, many years ago now, and heard the
word Jedi Helmet I thought it’s because Jedi’s could read minds rather than
them being this. But it kind of is. It is in a way and that’s what I love about
these is that they come with their own stories but then we can bring our own
stories to them as well.

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