This will give sperm a jolt.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield have developed a new way to test the quality of human sperm without killing them. Called the Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy technique, it uses “powerful magnets and works like radar by firing pulses of energy at the sperm sample” and then scans and listens to the echoed signals given off.

Early data suggests that this technique can help people discriminate between good and poor sperm. And its big advantage is this: “unlike other more destructive examination methods, the low energy pulses do not damage sperm, meaning they could potentially go on to be used in IVF treatment,” the report notes.

While this kind of radar technique has been used to look at the molecular composition of other human cells and tissues, it hadn’t been used on sperm before. “As such, these results are a world first,” says Professor Martyn Paley, from the University’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease.

The research also showed that certain molecules — including choline (a vitamin-like essential nutrient) andlipids (common components of sperm cell membranes) — were very different between ‘good’ and ‘poor’ populations of sperm. “The fact we can detect differences in molecular composition between samples of ‘good’ and ‘poor’ sperm is really significant because it opens up the opportunity for us to develop a novel biomarker to help with diagnosis,” says research fellow Steven Reynolds. “Or it might one day allow us to design specific therapies for men with poor sperm that might help give them a boost.”

As any couple who’s struggled with infertility knows, there’s a high emotional and financial cost. The average cost of a single in-vitro fertilization cycle is $12,400, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).