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research, supported by NSF, led to the development of Magnetic Resonance
Imaging (MRI) technology, now widely used in hospitals to detect tumors
and internal tissue damage
in patients and to investigate differences in brain tissue, for example.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has had a larger role in long-range
commitment to the development of MRI. Few would have predicted in 1946,
when Stanford and Harvard researchers discovered and explored the phenomenon
of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), that the
study of the spin characteristics of basic matter would
lead in the 1970s to improvements in health care.
But that is exactly what happened. NMR was quickly applied to the development
of NMR spectrometers, scientific instruments used extensively in analytical
chemistry. From 1971 to 1981, medical researchers and physical scientists
in the U.S.A. and Britain did much of the pioneering work to develop the
MRI imaging technique.
Clinical medicine uses
By 1988, MRI had achieved significant penetration of its primary market:
clinical medicine. MRI has surpassed computer-aided tomography (CAT) scanners
as the preferred diagnostic tool for a number of diseases, especially
those involving damage to the soft tissues of the body.
MRI technology was made possible by combining information about the
spin characteristics of matter with research in mathematics and high-flux
It relies on the physics of nuclear magnetic resonance and on the core
technology of NMR spectrometry-measuring the wavelengths of a spectrum.
Now MRI is used in many U.S.A. and foreign hospitals, as a noninvasive
technology that helps physicians diagnose a wide array of illnesses. It
is an excellent example of how basic research results can provide the
basis for practical applications some years later.
NSF provided a significant part of the basic research infrastructure that
scientists throughout the world drew upon in the development of MRI. From
1955 to the 1990s, NSF support for the underlying NMR instrumentation
amounted to $90 million.
NSF also supported research in other areas directly related to the development
of MRI technology, such as electromagnetics, digital systems, computer
engineering, biophysics and biochemistry.