Nobel Prize for MRI Discovery

Medical Author: Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.

Oct 6, 2003 - Today two scientists who developed magnetic resonance imaging, better known as MRI, were awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. The official announcement stated that: "The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2003 jointly to Paul C Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield for their discoveries concerning "magnetic resonance imaging." Dr.Paul Lauterbur is American. Sir Peter Mansfield is British. The following summary and thumbnail sketches of the new Nobel laureates are based on information provided by the Nobel Assembly.


Imaging of human internal organs with exact and non-invasive methods is very important for medical diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. This year's Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine have made seminal discoveries concerning the use of magnetic resonance to visualize different structures. These discoveries have led to the development of modern magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, which represents a breakthrough in medical diagnostics and research.

Atomic nuclei in a strong magnetic field rotate with a frequency that is dependent on the strength of the magnetic field. Their energy can be increased if they absorb radio waves with the same frequency (resonance). When the atomic nuclei return to their previous energy level, radio waves are emitted. These discoveries were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1952. During the following decades, magnetic resonance was used mainly for studies of the chemical structure of substances. In the beginning of the 1970s, this year's Nobel Laureates made pioneering contributions, which later led to the applications of magnetic resonance in medical imaging.