Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Paul Lauterbur & MRI

Paul Christian Lauterbur. Photograph: Michigan State University

I decided to look into the development of MRI today, and I learnt about somebody new!

Paul Christian Lauterbur (6 May 1929 - 27 March 2007) was an American chemist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2003 with Peter Mansfield for his work which made the development of MRI possible.

Lauterbur was born and raised in Sidney, Ohio and graduated from Sidney High School where a new wing for Chemistry, Physics and Biology was dedicated in honour of him. He studied as an undergraduate at Case Institute of Technology  in Cleveland. He built his own laboratory as a teenager in his parent's basement, and he enjoyed doing chemistry experiments on his own. While in the Army in the 1950s, he began his work developing one of the early MRI machines

He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1962 and credits the idea of the MRI to a brainstorm he had one day, which he wrote down on a napkin (as scientists do!) He continued this research, which earned him the Nobel Prize at Stony Brook University, during the 1970s.

The Nobel Prize in Physics in 1952, which was awarded to Felix Bloch and Edward Purcell, was for the development of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), the scientific principle behind MRI. However, NMR was mainly for studying the chemical structure of substances. It wasn't until the 1970s with Lauterbur's and Mansfield's developments that NMR could be used to produce images of the body.

Lauterbur is credited for the idea of introducing gradients in the magnetic field which allows us to determine the origin of the radio waves emitted from the nuclei of the object of study. This spatial information allows two-dimensional pictures to be produced.

While Lauterbur was at Stony Brook, the best NMR machine on campus belonged to the chemistry department (which resulted in him using it at night!) The original MRI machine is located in the Chemistry building at State University of New York in Stony Brook, New York.

Some of the first images taken by Lauterbur included a clam his daughter had collected, green peppers and two test tubes of heavy water within a beaker of ordinary water; no other imaging technique at that time could distinguish between two different kinds of water. This was particularly important as the human body consists mostly of water.

Peter Mansfield of the University of Nottingham in England took Lauterbur's initial work further, and developed a mathematical process to speed the image reading.

Sorry again for the long posts about historical figures in Radiography, but it is quite fascinating to find out what they developed and how! It also helps to understand how they work... kind of... Maybe...

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