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16 August 2012
MRI Scanner heads for CERN

One of the original MRI scanners, which helped pioneer research into neuroscience and physiology at The University of Nottingham, is heading for a new life at CERN.

The 3T MR Scanner, which opened windows onto the working of the brain and body, was installed 21 years ago in the Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre. It was at the heart of the centre’s research for more than a decade and was only retired a few months before its 20th year. Around it Sir Peter Mansfield and his team constructed the world’s fastest MRI system — a record it held for many years.

Having been superseded by the super fast 7T MR scanner it is bound for a new life with physicists from the University of York who are working on a particle physics experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. The retired scanner will help them investigate the effects of magnetic fields on the radio-active decay of short lived particles.

The 13 tonne magnet, which had to be craned out of its old home, will be refurbished before its installation on the end of the beam line at CERN where special detectors will be placed inside the bore of the old scanner.

The 3T scanner provided scientists with an instrument to look at how the mind works. It enabled scientists to look at brain function as well as brain anatomy. Its arrival in 1991 signalled the establishment of the Magnetic Resonance Centre — home to the University’s expanding Magnetic Resonance Group which are part of the School of Physics and Astronomy.

Using the new high speed 7T scanner — which was the first of its kind in the country when it was installed at the centre in 2005 — the researchers are now pioneering research into schizophrenia.

Peter Morris, Director of the Sir Peter Mansfield magnetic Resonance Centre in the School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “Probably over the next decade we will see the MRI scanner’s application in psychiatry. This is the ideal tool to understand the workings of the human mind and also what happens when something goes wrong.”

The very first scanner, which was co-invented by Sir Peter Mansfield — The University of Nottingham's Nobel Laureate for Physiology and Medicine — is now to be found in the London Science Museum. It is fitting, therefore, that the second magnet he worked on will also live on as part of the pioneering research being carried out by scientists working on the LHC experiment at CERN.

The team at The University of Nottingham have been conducting research into Magnetic Resonance Imaging since Sir Peter Mansfield’s pioneering work in the early 1970s. Sir Peter Mansfield, along with the late Paul Lauterbur, harnessed nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to visualise the internal structure of complex objects.

In 1976 they produced the first human NMR image, a finger complete with bone, bone-marrow, nerves and arteries. Their research revolutionised the world of diagnostic medicine and in 2003 received world acclaim when Sir Peter and Paul Lauterbur shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Sir Peter is still an Emeritus Professor at the University today.

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