Magnetic resonance microscopy (MRM) depends on the use of high field, superconducting magnet systems for its operation. The magnets that are conventionally used are those that were initially designed for chemical structural analysis work. A novel, compact magnet designed specifically for MRM is presented here, and while preserving high field, high homogeneity conditions, has a length less than one-third that of conventional systems. This enables much better access to samples, an important consideration in many MRM experiments. As the homogeneity of a magnet is strongly dependent on its length, novel geometries and optimization techniques are required to meet the requirements of MRM in a compact system. An important outcome of the stochastic optimization performed in this work, is that the use used of a thin superconducting solenoid surrounded by counterwound disk windings provides a mechanism for drastic length reductions over conventional magnet designs. (C) 1998 American Institute of Physics.