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When Were MRI Machines First Used?

Discover the fascinating history of MRI machines: From their early beginnings to today's advanced technologies.


When Were MRI Machines Invented?

Discovery of Magnetic Resonance Phenomenon

The discovery of the magnetic resonance phenomenon took place in the 1930s by Felix Bloch and Edward Purcell. They discovered the phenomenon while studying the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei. This knowledge laid the foundation that eventually led to the invention of MRI machines. It wasn't until the 1940s that the phenomenon was confirmed and properly understood.

First MRI Machine

The first MRI machine was invented in the early 1970s by Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2003 for their pioneering work. Lauterbur introduced the idea of using gradients in magnetic fields to produce sectional images, while Mansfield developed the mathematical techniques for capturing, processing, and reconstructing images. Their work revolutionized the field of medical imaging, which allowed physicians to see inside the body without using any invasive procedures.

Their first MRI machine was large, slow, and produced low-quality images. It wasn't until the 1980s that improvements were made in the technology which allowed for faster scanning times and better image quality, however, the high cost of the machines made them prohibitively expensive.

Advancements in MRI Technology

Over the years, advancements in MRI technology have continued to improve. In the late 1980s, the introduction of high-field MRI machines led to significant improvements in image resolution and quality. The mid-1990s saw the development of open MRI machines that eliminated the claustrophobic feeling that many patients experienced with traditional closed MRI machines. Later, the development of an MRI-compatible robot allowed for more precise surgical procedures.

The 2000s saw the emergence of advanced MRI techniques such as functional MRI (fMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). These techniques allowed for better visualization of physiological processes and anatomical structures in the brain and other organs. The introduction of 3T and 7T MRI machines have significantly improved the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment in various medical fields.


Since the discovery of the magnetic resonance phenomenon in the 1930s, MRI technology has come a long way. The invention of the first MRI machine by Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield in the early 1970s, revolutionized the field of medical imaging and helped to improve patient care. Advancements in magnetic field gradients, computer software, and hardware have led to significant improvements in image quality, scan times, and the ability to image different parts of the body with greater accuracy. MRI machines continue to play an essential role in the diagnosis and treatment of various health conditions and are expected to continue to evolve as technology advances.

When Were MRI Machines Invented?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is a technology that has revolutionized medical diagnosis, allowing doctors to create detailed images of the human body without the need for invasive procedures. MRI machines were invented in the early 1970s and have since become a widely used tool in healthcare.

The Invention of MRI Machines

The invention of MRI machines is credited to a group of scientists, including Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield. In 1971, Lauterbur published a paper demonstrating that it was possible to create an image using magnetic gradients. This inspired Mansfield and his team to develop a method for rapidly switching the gradients, allowing for the creation of a full image.

The first MRI machine was built by Raymond Damadian in 1977. He used the device to create an image of a cancerous rat, demonstrating that MRI could be used for medical diagnosis.

The Development of MRI Machines

After the invention of the first MRI machine, researchers began to refine the technology, working to improve image quality and reduce scan times. In 1983, the first clinical MRI scan was performed on a human patient, marking a major milestone in the development of the technology.

Over the years, MRI machines have become more sophisticated, with new technologies being added to improve image quality, such as the addition of contrast agents or the use of higher field strengths. Today, MRI machines are essential medical tools, used for a wide range of diagnostic purposes.

How Do MRI Machines Work?

MRI machines work by using powerful magnetic fields to create detailed images of the human body. These magnetic fields interact with atoms in the body, causing them to emit signals that can be detected by the machine.

Magnetic Fields

At the heart of every MRI machine is a strong magnet, usually made of a superconducting material such as niobium-titanium or niobium-tin. This magnet produces a magnetic field that is thousands of times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field. When a patient is placed inside the MRI machine, the magnetic field causes the nuclei of hydrogen atoms in the body to align with the field.

Radio waves are then used to manipulate these aligned nuclei, causing them to emit a radiofrequency signal that can be detected by the scanner. By varying the strength and direction of the magnetic field, the scanner can create three-dimensional images of different parts of the body.

Radio Waves

Radio waves are an essential component of MRI machines, used to excite the hydrogen atoms in the body and create the radiofrequency signal. The scanner emits radio waves at a specific frequency, causing the hydrogen atoms to absorb energy and move into a higher energy state.

When the radio waves are turned off, the hydrogen atoms return to their original state, emitting a radiofrequency signal that can be detected by the scanner. The signal provides information about the location and distribution of hydrogen atoms in the body, which can be used to create detailed images of different tissues.

Types of MRI Machines

There are several types of MRI machines available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Some of the most common types include:

  • Open MRI machines: These machines use a magnet that is positioned above and below the patient, rather than surrounding them. This makes the machine more comfortable for patients who may experience claustrophobia in a traditional MRI machine.
  • High-field MRI machines: These machines use magnets that are stronger than those used in open MRI machines, allowing for higher resolution images. However, they are more expensive and less widely available.
  • Low-field MRI machines: These machines use magnets that are less powerful than those used in high-field MRI machines. They are less expensive, but the images they produce may be of lower quality.

Overall, MRI machines have become a crucial tool in modern medicine, allowing doctors to diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions. While they were only invented in the 1970s, they have since become a staple of healthcare around the world.

Applications of MRI Machines

Medical Diagnosis

MRI machines have revolutionized the field of medical diagnosis. It is a non-invasive and highly accurate imaging technique that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the body’s internal structures. Unlike X-rays and CT scans, MRI machines generate images without using ionizing radiation which is harmful to the body. As a result, MRI is used to detect a wide range of conditions including cancer, neurological disorders, and joint problems.

One of the most common medical applications of MRI machines is in the detection and diagnosis of cancer. The detailed images that MRI machines can produce help doctors to identify the exact location of tumors, their shape, and size, which is essential for accurate diagnosis and treatment. MRI machines are also used to detect neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease because they can provide detailed images of the brain and spinal cord.

Additionally, MRI machines are used to detect joint problems such as those caused by injuries or arthritis. MRI scans can accurately diagnose torn ligaments, damaged cartilage, and fractures, which can help doctors to develop a treatment plan that improves patient outcomes.


MRI machines are not just limited to medical diagnosis and treatment; they are also widely used in medical research. Scientists use MRI machines to study the structure and function of the brain, to identify changes in the brain that occur in response to different stimuli, to track the progression of neurological disorders and to develop new treatments.

One of the most fascinating aspects of MRI research is the ability to observe changes in the brain in real-time. Scientists can observe how the brain responds to different stimuli, including visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli. This allows them to gain insights into the way the brain processes information and to develop new treatments for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and depression.

MRI machines are also used to study the effects of drugs on the brain. Researchers can observe how drugs affect brain activity, identify the specific brain regions that are affected, and develop new treatments for psychiatric disorders.

Non-Medical Applications

MRI machines have applications beyond the medical field. In the agricultural industry, for example, MRI machines are used to analyze the water content of crops. This information is essential for developing irrigation and fertilizer strategies that can enhance crop yields.

In the art world, MRI machines are used to analyze the composition of paintings. By scanning paintings, experts can identify the materials used by artists and understand the techniques they used to create their masterpieces. This information can help curators and restorers to develop better preservation strategies for these priceless works of art.

Another non-medical application of MRI machines is in the development of new materials, such as metals and plastics. Scientists use MRI machines to study the atomic-level structure of these materials, which is essential for understanding their properties and developing new materials with enhanced properties.


MRI machines have a wide range of applications in medical diagnosis, research, and non-medical applications. As technology advances, MRI machines continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in the medical and scientific communities. With more research, MRI machines will continue to transform our understanding of the human body, and help develop new treatments for a variety of conditions.

When Were MRI Machines Invented?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic tool that uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the body's internal structures. MRIs are commonly used to diagnose a range of medical conditions affecting the brain, spine, joints, and other organs. But when did MRI machines come into existence?

Early Days of MRI Machines

The concept of MRI machines can be traced back to the discoveries of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in the 1930s. However, it wasn't until the 1970s when physicists Raymond Damadian and Paul Lauterbur developed the first modern MRI machine.

Damadian's initial work on NMR showed that cancerous cells had a different magnetic resonance than healthy cells. In 1970, he successfully scanned a human finger using magnetic resonance to distinguish cancerous versus non-cancerous tissue. He went on to found Fonar Corporation and patented his flesh-scanning diagnostic method in 1974, which became the first ever MRI scan.

Meanwhile, Lauterbur, a scientist at the University of Illinois, developed a technique to map chemical compounds using NMR. With this technique of magnetic resonance imaging, he was able to create a two-dimensional image of a test tube filled with water. The image was rather blurry, but it demonstrated the scientific basis for MRI and was a significant breakthrough.

In 1977, Damadian demonstrated the first whole-body MRI scanner called the Indomitable, and it was used to scan the human body for the first time. This scanner was large and slow compared to today's modern MRI machines, taking several hours to produce a single image.

Advances and Improvements

After their initial development, MRI technology rapidly advanced. In 1980, George Mansfield from the UK developed the first commercial MRI scanner capable of producing high-quality images in just a few minutes. This was a significant improvement, allowing clinicians to diagnose and treat patients more rapidly.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, MRI machines continue to be refined, with more advanced techniques and higher resolution images. The development of stronger magnetic fields and more efficient gradient coils made MRIs faster and more reliable. In the 2000s, MRI manufacturers introduced open MRI systems to address claustrophobia and avoid the risk of panic attacks during the procedure. Open MRI machines are designed to improve the patient's comfort level during the scan.

Benefits and Limitations of MRI Machines


MRI machines offer several benefits to medical staff and patients. MRI machines provide doctors with high-resolution images of internal organs, bones, and soft tissues, making it easier to diagnose and monitor a range of medical conditions.

MRI machines are non-invasive and do not produce ionizing radiation, making them safe for patients. MRI scans can be used to diagnose cancer, spinal injuries, multiple sclerosis, and brain injuries, amongst many other conditions. Additionally, some MRI machines can do functional MRI scans, which help doctors understand brain functions and help in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy.


Despite its many benefits, MRI machines also have several limitations. MRI machines are expensive and may not be accessible in all areas. Additionally, some patients cannot undergo MRI scans due to claustrophobia or the presence of metal implants that can interact with the magnetic field created by the machine.

MRI scans take longer than other types of imaging scans, such as X-rays and CT scans, and may not be suitable for emergency situations. Lastly, MRI machines require special training to operate, and the interpretation of scans can be complex, making the diagnosis and treatment a lengthy process.


The invention of MRI machines has led to significant improvements in medical diagnosis and treatment. It offers non-invasive imaging technology that can help detect, diagnose and monitor a wide range of medical conditions. With continued technological advancements, MRI machines continue to improve, helping to improve patient outcomes and revolutionize the medical field in the years to come.

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