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In this work, a new method of optimization is successfully applied to the theoretical design of compact, actively shielded, clinical MRI magnets. The problem is formulated as a two‐step process in which the desired current densities on multiple, co‐axial surface layers are first calculated by solving Fredholm equations of the first kind. Non‐linear optimization methods with inequality constraints are then invoked to fit practical magnet coils to the desired current densities. The current density approach allows rapid prototyping of unusual magnet designs. The emphasis of this work is on the optimal design of short, actively‐shielded MRI magnets for whole‐body imaging. Details of the hybrid numerical model are presented, and the model is used to investigate compact, symmetric, and asymmetric MRI magnets. Magnet designs are presented for actively‐shielded, symmetric magnets of coil length 1.0 m, which is considerably shorter than currently available designs of comparable dsv size. Novel, actively‐shielded, asymmetric magnet designs are also presented in which the beginning of a 50‐cm dsv is positioned just 11 cm from the end of the coil structure, allowing much improved access to the patient and reduced patient claustrophobia. Magn Reson Med 45:331–340, 2001. © 2001 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.
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