100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview
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(Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
Year of Invention: 1977

What Is It? A process that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to scan a body
and gather detailed information about the cell structure inside.

Who Invented It? Raymond Damadian (in Brooklyn, New York)

Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

MRI has been called a magic window into the body and has sparked a revolution in medical diagnosis. MRIs produce safe, noninvasive images that detect cancer and other diseases, that guide surgeons, and that reveal body secrets that cannot be learned in any other way without invasive surgery. An MRI scan doesn’t just produce a picture, it records a detailed, three-dimensional computer file that doctors can manipulate to view the precise set of images they need. MRI’s do all that while creating no adverse side effects.

History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Before MRIs were invented, doctors had only two ways to see inside a body: X-rays and surgery. Neither produced a detailed chemical analysis of an organ or of its individual cells. Both created serious side effects. Doctors often had to rely on circumstantial evidence, on clues, and on patient symptoms for their diagnoses.

How Was MRI Invented?

American physicist Isador Rabi first developed the principles of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMR) in 1939. In 1941, American physicist Felix Block built the first working machine based on these principles. The size of a breadbox, this NMR machine was a way for physicists to peer inside molecules and into the atomic and subatomic structure of matter.

The NMR concept was simple. Place a small sample of some matter in a strong magnetic field, and some of the atomic nuclei in this matter will behave like compass needles and align themselves with the magnetic field. When the sample is then hit with radio wave


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