How thin can you go? Performance of thin copper and aluminum RF coil conductors

Magn Reson Med. 2021 Apr;85(4):2327-2333. doi: 10.1002/mrm.28540. Epub 2020 Oct 15.


Purpose: To evaluate the impact of emerging conductor technology on RF coils. Performance and resulting image quality of thin or alternate conductors (eg, aluminum instead of copper) and thicknesses (9-600 μm) are compared in terms of SNR.

Methods: Eight prototype RF coils (15 cm × 15 cm square loops) were constructed and bench-tested to measure quality factor. The coils used 6-mm-wide conducting strips of either copper or aluminum of a few different thicknesses (copper: 17, 32, 35, 127, 600 μm; aluminum: 9, 13, 20, 127 μm) on acetate projector sheets for backing. Corresponding image SNR was measured at 0.48 tesla (20.56 MHz).

Results: The coils spanned a range of unloaded quality factors from 89 to 390 and a fivefold range of losses. The image SNRs were consistent with the coils' bench-measured efficiencies (0.33-0.73). Thin aluminum conductors (9 μm) led to the highest reduction in SNR (65% that of 127 μm copper). Thin copper (<32 μm) conductors lead to a much smaller decrease in SNR (approximately 10%) compared to 127 μm copper. No performance difference was observed between 127 μm thick copper and aluminum. The much thicker 600 μm copper bars only yield a 5% improvement in SNR.

Conclusion: Even at 0.48 tesla, copper RF coil conductors much thinner than those in conventional construction can be used while maintaining SNR greater than 50% that of thick copper. These emerging coil conductor technologies enable RF coil functionality that cannot be achieved otherwise.

Keywords: RF coils; SNR; alternate conductors; aluminum; efficiency; quality factor; thin conductors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum*
  • Copper*
  • Equipment Design
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Phantoms, Imaging
  • Radio Waves


  • Copper
  • Aluminum