Doctors use MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, to diagnose a host of ailments. Many people have had an MRI, fMRI or Open MRI scan in conjunction with an illness or injury, but they may know little about this revolutionary technology. Here are five fun facts to get you up to speed.
- Nikola Tesla first discovered the rotating magnetic field, the phenomenon that made magnetic resonance imaging possible, in Budapest, Hungary in 1882. Seventy-four years later scientists commemorated his discovery by naming the Tesla Unit as the official measure of the strength of a magnetic field.
- The image generated by an MRI is not a photograph. The machine uses a magnetic field, radio waves and computers to map radio signals generated by each cell in response to the workings of the machine. The signal emitted by each type of cell is distinct, allowing doctors to identify various types of tissue, including bone, joints, muscle and cartilage.
- Cancerous tissue contains more water than healthy tissue. The excess water resonates for longer in an MRI machine, making the tumor distinct from surrounding tissue in the image generated.
- Many people are averse to the noise and confined space of an MRI machine, which is typically an enclosed tube. The creation of open MRI machines has made the experience more pleasant for children and those who suffer symptoms of claustrophobia, and enables doctors and family members to talk to patients while the procedure is carried out.
- MRIs are not just used for diagnostic purposes. Because they do not use X-rays or radiation, they are safe for most users (people with pacemakers or nonsurgical internal metal are the exceptions), and are widely used in research. Scientists have used the technology to record the brain activity of video gamers, meditating monks, jazz musicians and dyslexics. They have also imaged everything from fresh produce to a woman giving birth.
In the past century and a half the world saw impressive leaps in technology that made the MRI possible. In the future, the MRI will be not the culmination of advanced science, but its facilitator.