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Explorations in Science and Technology

The Man Who Discovered MRI


Always curious, young Paul Lauterbur often could be found in his high school’s chemistry lab conducting experiments. Later in life, his research in imaging technology would earn him a Nobel Prize.

While earning a PhD at Pitt, he first worked with nuclear magnetic resonance, a technique used to analyze materials or tissue. Exploring this technique in the U.S. Army, universities, and private companies, Lauterbur began to sense its potential.

Then he had the insight that would change medicine: By breaking the magnetic field into quadrants and applying a second field, he could form dimensional images of living tissue. Named magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Lauterbur's discovery is indispensable today in diagnosing and understanding disease. With researcher Sir Peter Mansfield, Lauterbur received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in 2003. A year later, he delivered Pitt's commencement address.