Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that is now used routinely in hospitals. It uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body in a way that is completely non-invasive. The results of an MRI scan can be used to help diagnose conditions, plan treatments and assess how effective a previous treatment has been. Sir Peter Mansfield was an English physicist who was awarded a share of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He advanced understanding how the radio signals from MRI can be mathematically analysed and turned into useful images. He also discovered how faster data processing could be possible by developing a technique called echo-planar imaging. With around 36,000 scanners in operation worldwide, and 100 million scans undertaken annually, there is no doubt that MRI has revolutionised diagnostic medicine and saved countless lives over the years.
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The study of electromagnetic waves is central to all physics degree programmes at Heriot-Watt (2nd year course B28PO Photonics and Optics, 3rd year course B29EM Electromagnetism and 4th year course B20ES Electromagnetism and Laser Physics). Students taking our Chemical Physics degree also study the use of magnetic resonance as a highly sensitive molecular probe in courses such as B11PS Advanced Physical Instrumentation Techniques.