Matthew Brookes

2022 United Kingdom Award Winner — Faculty

Matthew Brookes

Current Position:
Professor of Physics

University of Nottingham

Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics

Recognized for: The development of wearable magnetoencephalography (MEG), a new technology which opens up the possibility of imaging human brain activity in moving subjects, young children, adults in active motion, and patients with neurological disorders. Brookes is leading the field to realize the huge potential of this technology in both fundamental neuroscience research and clinical applications.

Matthew Brookes

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Human Brain Imaging, Magnetoencephalography, Quantum Sensors, Brain Electrophysiology, Network Modelling

Previous Positions: 

MSci, University of Nottingham
PhD, University of Nottingham
Mansfield Fellow and Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow, University of Nottingham

Research Summary: 

Matthew Brookes, PhD, is internationally acclaimed for his work on human brain imaging, and in particular for his role in developing a new type of wearable magnetoencephalography (MEG) device. MEG measures tiny magnetic fields generated by the electrical currents that flow through neurons in the brain. These neuronal signals enable direct mapping of brain networks on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis as they form and dissolve to mediate sensory and cognitive function.

Although their potential had been recognized for decades, traditional MEG scanners have found limited applications. They are large, cumbersome, and very expensive because they rely on superconducting sensors, which need to be cooled to extremely low temperatures (-269°C) to operate. They also require the subject to remain still for long periods during a scan, preventing their use in young children or people in active motion.

Brookes and his team have created a step-change in MEG technology by devising a wearable, helmet-like scanner that can acquire data while a subject moves. This was enabled by a novel type of quantum optical sensor. The new sensors measure magnetic fields without the need for low temperatures, and at a much lower cost than superconducting sensors. As these sensors are placed much closer to the brain, his helmet-like MEG scanners achieve dramatically better sensitivity and spatial resolution compared to traditional technology. Brookes has successfully used these MEG instruments to scan young children, adults playing sports, and patients with neurological disorders such as epilepsy, demonstrating their massive potential for both fundamental and translational neuroscientific research. He has founded a company—Cerca Magnetics Limited—to commercialize his technology, with clients across Europe, North America, and Asia including some of the world’s largest children’s hospitals.

“For me, understanding the human brain and the many disorders that affect it is one of the greatest scientific puzzles. That the magic of quantum physics can allow us to watch the brain at work, and provide pieces of that puzzle, is truly remarkable!”

Key Publications: 

  1. M.J. Brookes, M. Woolrich, H. Luckhoo, D. Price, J.R. Hale, M.C. Stephenson, G.R. Barnes, S.M. Smith, P.G. Morris. Investigating the Electrophysiological Basis of Resting State Networks Using Magnetoencephalography. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 2011.
  2. Boto, N. Holmes, J. Leggett, et al., M.J. Brookes. Moving Magnetoencephalography towards Real-world Applications with A Wearable System. Nature, 2018.
  3. R.M. Hill, E. Boto, N. Holmes, et al., M.J. Brookes. A Tool for Functional Brain Imaging with Lifespan Compliance. Nature Communications, 2019.
  4. R.M. Hill, E. Boto, M. Rea, et al., M.J. Brookes. Multi-channel Whole Head OPM-MEG: Helmet Design and A Comparison with A Conventional System. NeuroImage, 2020.

Other Honors:

2021Cerca Magnetics Limited named best MedTech Startup Company at the OBN Awards
2021 & 2011Editor’s Choice Awards for papers in NeuroImage
2019Highly commended by Times Higher Education Awards
2019Top Ten Breakthroughs of 2019, Physics World
2018Mid-career Award, International Society for Biomagnetism
2005RCUK Science Communicators Award


In the Media: 

Nature videoBrain Waves in motion

Pindex videoStephen Fry on Quantum Tech

Physics WorldQuantum Physics Gives Brain-Sensing MEG Scanners A Boost

imeche.orgBiomedical Engineering Enters the Quantum Realm

The EngineerBrain Imaging Technique Could Improve Treatment for Infants