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If you’ve ever been stuck in an MRI scanner, anxiously wondering what it will reveal, you probably didn’t spend much time admiring the machine itself. Yet magnetic resonance imaging is a triumphant mix of physics and medicine.

When you lie in an MRI scanner, it creates a wobbling magnetic field. The water molecules in your body briefly rotate, and their movement causes them to release faint radio waves. Detectors built into the scanner are tuned to pick up the waves and translate their signals into a three-dimensional image of your insides.

But MRIs aren’t perfect. They require a gigantic magnet that can weigh several tons. The magnetic field produced by the device is so powerful it can throw a metal chair across a room. And the whole apparatus can cost several million dollars.


Matthew Rosen and his colleagues at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging in Boston want liberate the MRI. They’re hacking a new kind of scanner that’s fast, small, and cheap. Using clever algorithms, they can use a weak magnetic field to get good images of our brains and other organs. Someday, people may not have to go to hospital for an MRI. The scanners may show up in sports arenas, battlefields, and even the backs of ambulances.

In this episode of “Science Happens!” we visit Rosen’s lab to watch this technology break out of its old confines.


  • Thank you for sharing this information, as a Brain Cancer Survivor I depend on MRIs to check to see if there is any re-occurrence. Currently, I get an MRI every 6 months. I am used to it now, but when I first started, I was shocked at how loud MRIs were. I was told it is the magnets. Good luck with your research!

  • I recently read that a scientist has been able to pressurize hydrogen into a metal. My first thoughts as a MRI Technologist was the implications on MRI technology. With this blueprint and the addition of solid hydrogen parts the resolution and field strengths of these portable systems should increase dramatically. Science has just taken the next necessary step to make MRI more economically viable to populations that can’t afford the current capital investments. I can’t wait to see the follow up articles.

  • I get an MRI every 3 months to check to see if the brain tumor that changed my live 2 years ago re-occurs….I am used to the MRI today, but when I first started, I could not believe how loud it was.

    Would love to see a new machine that is quiet.

  • Hello. Your video segments would be very interesting and informative if I could stand to listen to them. The background sounds are nothing but distracting, painful “noise” to my ears “. It really would be helpful if you could offer text-only information if you must use the background sounds in the videos.

  • Thank you. I really enjoyed that segment about low magnetic field MRI scanning. Great concept. My biggest concern will be the low resolution. Radiologists, surgeons and clinicians always want better resolution for accurate diagnosis. And then there’s liability & reimbursements. Keep up the great work though!

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