Milestone-Proposal:The first magnetic resonance image (MRI)

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Docket #:2016-13

This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has the IEEE Section(s) in which the plaque(s) will be located agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

The First Two-Dimensional Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI), 1973

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

Researchers at Stony Brook University produced the first two-dimensional image using nuclear magnetic resonance in 1973.The proton distribution of the object, a test tube of water, was distinctly encoded using magnetic field gradients. This achievement was a major advance for MRI and paved the way for its worldwide usage as a noninvasive method to examine body tissue for disease detection.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

Long Island Section

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: Long Island Section
Senior Officer Name: Marjineh Issapour

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Long Is;and Section
Senior Officer Name: Marjineh Issapour

Unit: Stony Brook University
Senior Officer Name: Dr Mark Schweitzer

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: Long Island Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Marjineh Issapour

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Jesse Taub
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Medical Research and Translation (MART )building Lauterbur Drive Stony Brook ,NY 11790-3400

Latitude N40.908141 , Longitude W73.117410

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. The milestone plaque will be placed in a prominent location in Stony Brook University's Medicine Research and Translation (MART) building. This new facility was selected because the plaque will be placed where there will be a large public presence. In addition ,research on new medical uses for MRI will be conducted at MART. The building where Dr Lauterbur did his early MRI research is a short distance from MART.IT was not selected because it is not too accessible to the general public. There will be no other historic markers at or near the place where the plaque discussed herein will be placed.

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

It will be on the ground floor and mounted on a wall in a prominent place in the MART building.

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The wall mounting will be secure.. The place where it will be mounted is available to the general public. No appointment will be needed to visit it and there ae no security issues.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Stony Brook University

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

September 2, 1971. Paul Lauterbur’s original idea for obtaining two-dimensional and three- dimensional images showing the distribution of magnetic nuclei relaxation times and diffusion coefficients were recorded in his notebook. A copy of this entry is found in Appendix A. His subsequent experiments resulted in producing the first two- dimensional magnetic resonance image (MRI) and the results were published in the March 16, 1973 issue of Nature. Appendix B is a copy of that article.

Prior to his effort, when NMR measurements were made on substances, there was no way to identify where the resonances occurred because a fixed magnetic field was applied. He realized that if a linear gradient was added to the fixed magnetic field it would be possible to spatially encode the substance in one dimension. By rotating this linearly varying magnetic field, he could get responses in other single dimensions.By doing so with three 45 degree rotations ,he was able to fill a two dimensional space.

This groundbreaking achievement drew on several prior technologies.

  • Availability of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy equipment to measure the properties of chemical substances.
  • Tomography algorithms previously developed for X-Ray CT scanning.

We will briefly review the prior knowledge that Lauterbur needed to accomplish his goal.

A. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR)

NMR is a physical phenomenon in which nuclei absorb and re-emit elecromagnetic radiation, typically in the 60-1000 MHz region. This occurs at a specific frequency which is proportional to the applied magnetic field. It can be used to study he properties of a wide range of chemical substances. However, in the case of MRI for medical application, one is usually concerned hydrogen protons contained in water molecules. NMR was first observed by Isadore Rabi in 1938 in gases. Felix Bloch and Edward Purcell demonstrated its use in liquids and solids. They all received Nobel Prizes for their work. The resonant behavior can be observed by applying electromagnetic radiation at the same frequency of the precession of the protons.

B- NMR Equipment

Lauterbur’s two-dimensional images were produced by using a Varian A60 NMR spectrometer with coils added to produce magnetic field gradients. Photos of the A60 and Lauterbur doing his early research on that equipment are found in Appendix C and an upload file-PLauterbur. The slope of the gradient corresponded to 700Hz per cm. The sample to be imaged received electromagnetic (RF) radiation at a nominal frequency of 60MHz. This frequency was varied to get a linear projection. Lauterbur imaged a water tube such that resonant interaction occurred only with the waters hydrogen protons. He then rotated the gradient field at three additional 45degree intervals to obtain sufficient data to construct a satisfactory two-dimensional image. His final step was to construct an image from these data. He realized that the problem had been solved for X-Ray CT scans and suitable algorithms were available. Lauterbur used one described by Gordon and Herman which is found in Appendix D. While he did not do so in his early work, he realized that previously developed Fourier transformed NMR and FFT algorithms could speed up image formation.

While the current MRI equipment is vastly more complex, Lauterbur’s achievement had much to do with spurring these developments.

C- Scanning and Transient NMR

While Lauterbur’s original work was done by scanning the RF signal, he noted that transient (Fourier transform) methods could be used as well, as described below.

Since the introduction of a magnetic field gradient will enable the resonance of a substance to be a function of distance; in Lauterbur’s case, he was imaging two 1mm inside diameter glass tubes filled with water. Thus, if we vary the frequency of the applied electromagnetic (RF) energy, we could get a one-dimensional projection of the water. Lauterbur rotated the magnetic field at 3 additional 45 degree intervals. These four linear projections filled up the two-dimensional space. Lauterbur was able to construct a two-dimensional image with the aid of an algorithm developed by Gordon and Herman. (see Appendix D). The algorithm had been developed to obtain two-dimensional images from X-Ray CT scans.

The transient method would involve pulse modulation of the RF signal. The pulse width would have to short enough to produce a frequency spectrum that would encompass the maximum shift in resonant frequency due to the gradient magnetic field change. If such a pulse were applied to the substance to be imaged and a Fourier transform of the response is performed, it would generate the desired linear projection. Using Fourier transform NMR clearly speeds up the process of determining the image.

At the time of Lauterbur’s 1973 Nature article, he used frequency scanning. Fourier Transform NMR was a known technique when he produced the first image and he did indeed use it in his later work.

D- Summary

While many improvements in speed and image quality have been made since this early work, Lauterbur’s demonstration of two- dimensional imaging was a major spur to make MRI the valuable development to the medical field that it is today. Researchers are continuing to find new applications for diagnostic imaging and more exciting discoveries undoubtedly lie ahead.

Media:Appendix A- Lauterbug Notes.doc

Media:Appendix B - Lauterbur's First MRI Publication.doc

Media:Appendix C - Varian A-60.doc

Appendix C - second page

Media:Appendix D - p759-gordon.pdf

Media:Appendix E - NY Times Article - Nobel Prize.doc

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

For Dr Lauterbur to do his experimental work ,he had to modify the Stony Brook University Chemistry Department's NMR spectrometer by adding gradient coils to he instrument .He had to do this after hours and return the instrument to its original state each time. The spectrometer was the Varian A 60. Other than that, he was able to try out his ideas that were expressed in his notes (Appendix A) and achieve his groundbreaking results.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

Prior to this work, only one dimensional NMR images had been realized by point by point techniques many years earlier. Once Dr Lauterbur showed that 2D images could be obtained ,faster and higher resolution images became a reality,mostly due to Mansfield at the University of Nottingham .Lauterbur and Mansfield shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2003 for their MRI research..Lauterbur's first images were a key achievement that contributed to making MRI what it is today.

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

Appendices A -E and a file-PLauterbur which have been uploaded and are referred to in the Historical Significance portion of this proposal..

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Appendices A-E can be made publically available on the IEEE History Center's website.

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.