BBC Earth (Asia) - - Q&a -

With its abil­ity to im­age the in­ter­nal or­gans and func­tion­ing of the body with­out us­ing X-rays, mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing (MRI) ranks as one of the big­gest med­i­cal break­throughs, and its de­vel­op­ment led to a No­bel Prize in 2003 for two sci­en­tists: Paul Lauter­bur of the State Univer­sity of New York and Peter Mans­field of the Univer­sity of Not­ting­ham. But within a month of the prize be­ing an­nounced, a full-page ad­vert ap­peared in The New York Times in­sist­ing MRI was ac­tu­ally in­vented by a New York doc­tor named Ray­mond Da­ma­dian.

MRI ex­ploits so-called nu­clear mag­netic res­o­nance (NMR) in which hy­dro­gen nu­clei in our bod­ies are first gripped by pow­er­ful mag­netic fields, then stim­u­lated into pro­duc­ing ra­dio waves. As these sig­nals are af­fected by the na­ture of the tis­sue, Da­ma­dian was among those who thought NMR might help with the early de­tec­tion of cancer. By the early 1970s the idea had shown prom­ise, and Da­ma­dian was granted a patent for this use of NMR. How­ever, oth­ers were al­ready go­ing fur­ther, and try­ing to cre­ate clear vis­ual images from the sig­nals. Lauter­bur and Mans­field are widely re­garded to have car­ried out the most work to­wards solv­ing the ex­tremely chal­leng­ing tech­ni­cal is­sues in­volved, turn­ing MRI into the ver­sa­tile tech­nique it is today. RM



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