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Chapter 20

In the Mist of Time

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance

Early Applications in Medicine and Biology

Spatial Encoding Leads to MR Imaging

MR Imaging Strikes Roots

Clinical Applications

Speeding up Clinial Imaging

Offsprings of Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Contrast Agents

MR Equipment

Prizes and Awards

Chapter Twenty
An Excursion into the History of
Magnetic Resonance Imaging

This chapter is available as free (personal) off-print from the new book version.

20-01 In the Mist of Time

ooking back at the main protagonists involved in MR imaging is vital for an understanding of the development of the modality. The topic is in­tri­gu­ing, but for some people rather sensitive. This is a short, perhaps in­com­ple­te, but to our knowledge the only authoritative introduction to the topic of MR imaging in science and biomedicine.

The history of the little world of nuclear magnetic re­so­nan­ce and magnetic re­so­nan­ce imaging is a mirror of the big world: one meets good, honest, and straight­for­ward people, and bad and dishonest people; true scientists and fake scientists; one learns that patents for discoveries are filed by people who have not even done research on the topic; one sees that different people at different places can get the same or similar ideas, independent from each other. And that money makes the world go round.

spaceholder 600 The two most important scientists for the development of magnetic re­so­nan­ce imaging were Erik Odeblad who first described the differences of re­la­xa­tion times in human tissue and Paul C. Lauterbur who invented MR imaging.

However, like any history, the history of MR imaging has no real beginning: Everything flows and nothing stays, as Heraklitos pointed out – and writing about history is a permanent Work-in-Progress.

There are a number of personal accounts tracing the development of NMR and MRI during the last seventy years, for instance those collected by Grant, Harris and collaborators [⇒ Grant]. A fine overview of magnetism and medicine was writ­ten by Manuel R. Mou­ri­no [⇒ Mourino].

spaceholder 600 Tales hinting to magnetism date back to the first centuries BC, among them the writings of Lucretius and Pliny the Elder.

Pliny (23-79 AD) wrote of a hill near the river Indus that was made en­ti­re­ly of a stone that attracted iron (Fi­gu­re 20-01). He also mentioned the ma­gi­cal po­wers of magnetite that kept haunt­ing mankind through the cen­tu­ries.

Figure 20-01:
Pliny the Elder's description of magnetism:

"There be two Mountains near the River In­dus. the Nature of the one is to hold fast all Manner of Iron, and of the other, to reject it: and, therefore, if the Sole of a Man's Shoes be clouted with Nails, in the one of them a Man cannot pluck away his Foot, and in the other he cannot take any footing."

Translation into English by Philemon Hol­land. London: George Barclay Publishers, 1847.

Pliny's original text in Latin: "Duo sunt mon­tes iuxta flumen Indum: alteri natura ut fer­rum omne teneat, alteri ut respuat, itaque, si sint clavi in calciamento, vestigia evelli in al­te­ro non possint, in altero sisti ..."

The relation between electricity and magnetism was fi­nal­ly proved by Hans Christian Oersted (Figure 20-02) in 1820 when – during a university lecture – he deflected the needle of a magnetic compass by holding a charged wire next to it, thus producing a magnetic field.

Figure 20-02: Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851).

His finding influenced French physicist André-Marie Ampère's and British Ja­mes Clerk Maxwell's research on electricity and magnetism.

A major contributor to – not only – magnetic resonance can be found in Napoleon's realm: Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fou­rier.

Figure 20-03: Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier (1768-1830).

Fourier served three years as the secretary of the Institut d'Egypte at the be­gin­ning of the nineteenth century, and later became prefect of the Isère dé­par­te­ment in France. However, the focus of his life was mathematics, and without his Fourier transform we would not be able to create MR images.

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