The Magnetocardiogram

Brad Roth
4 min readJun 7, 2024

I recently published a review in the American Institute of Physics journal Biophysics Reviews about the magnetocardiogram (Volume 5, Article 021305, 2024).

The magnetic field produced by the heart’s electrical activity is called the magnetocardiogram (MCG). The first twenty years of MCG research established most of the concepts, instrumentation, and computational algorithms in the field. Additional insights into fundamental mechanisms of biomagnetism were gained by studying isolated hearts or even isolated pieces of cardiac tissue. Much effort has gone into calculating the MCG using computer models, including solving the inverse problem of deducing the bioelectric sources from biomagnetic measurements. Recently, most magnetocardiographic research has focused on clinical applications, driven in part by new technologies to measure weak biomagnetic fields.

This graphical abstract sums the article up.

Let me highlight one paragraph of the review, about some of my own work on the magnetic field produced by action potential propagation in a slab of cardiac tissue.

The bidomain model led to two views of how an action potential wave front propagating through cardiac muscle produces a magnetic field.^58 The first view (Fig. 7a) is the traditional one. It shows a depolarization wave front and its associated impressed current propagating to the left (in the x direction) through a slab of tissue. The extracellular current returns through the superfusing saline bath above and below the slab. This geometry generates a magnetic field in the negative y direction, like that for the nerve fiber shown in Fig. 5. This mechanism for producing the magnetic field does not require anisotropy. The second view (Fig. 7b) removes the superfusing bath. If the tissue were isotropic (or anisotropic with equal anisotropy ratios) the intracellular currents would exactly cancel the equal and opposite interstitial currents, producing no net current and no magnetic field. If, however, the tissue has unequal anisotropy ratios and the wave front is propagating at an angle to the fiber axis, the intracellular current will be rotated toward the fiber axis more than the interstitial current, forming a net current flowing in the y direction, perpendicular to the direction of propagation.^59–63 This line of current generates an associated magnetic field. These two views provide different physical pictures of how the magnetic field is produced in cardiac tissue. In one case, the intracellular current forms current dipoles in the direction parallel to propagation, and in the other it forms lines of current in the direction perpendicular to propagation. Holzer et al. recorded the magnetic field created by a wave front in cardiac muscle with no superfusing bath present, and observed a magnetic field distribution consistent with Fig. 7b.^64. In general, both mechanisms for producing the magnetic field operate simultaneously.

FIG. 7. Two mechanisms for how cardiac tissue produces a magnetic field.

This figure is a modified (and colorized) version of an illustration that appeared in our paper in the Journal of Applied Physics.

58. R. A. Murdick and B. J. Roth, “A comparative model of two mechanisms from which a magnetic field arises in the heart,” J. Appl. Phys. 95, 5116–5122 (2004).

59. B. J. Roth and M. C. Woods, “The magnetic field associated with a plane wave front propa-gating through cardiac tissue,” IEEE Trans. Biomed. Eng. 46, 1288–1292 (1999).

60. C. R. H. Barbosa, “Simulation of a plane wavefront propagating in cardiac tissue using a cellular automata model,” Phys. Med. Biol. 48, 4151–4164 (2003).

61. R. Weber dos Santos, F. Dickstein, and D. Marchesin, “Transversal versus longitudinal current propagation on cardiac tissue and its relation to MCG,” Biomed. Tech. 47, 249–252 (2002).

62. R. Weber dos Santos, O. Kosch, U. Steinhoff, S. Bauer, L. Trahms, and H. Koch, “MCG to ECG source differences: Measurements and a two-dimensional computer model study,” J. Electrocardiol. 37, 123–127 (2004).

63. R. Weber dos Santos and H. Koch, “Interpreting biomagnetic fields of planar wave fronts in cardiac muscle,” Biophys. J. 88, 3731–3733 (2005).

64. J. R. Holzer, L. E. Fong, V. Y. Sidorov, J. P. Wikswo, and F. Baudenbacher, “High resolution magnetic images of planar wave fronts reveal bidomain properties of cardiac tissue,” Biophys. J. 87, 4326–4332 (2004).

The first author is Ryan Murdick, an Oakland University graduate student who analyzed the mechanism of magnetic field production in the heart for his masters degree. He then went to Michigan State University for a PhD in physics and now works for Renaissance Scientific in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve always thought Ryan’s thesis topic about the two mechanisms is underappreciated, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to reintroduce it to the biomagnetism community in my review. It’s hard to believe it has been twenty years since we published that paper. It seems like yesterday.

Originally published at



Brad Roth

Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.