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Paul Lauterbur and the Invention of MRI

M. Joan Dawson

Publication Year: 2013

On September 2, 1971, the chemist Paul Lauterbur had an idea that would change the practice of medical research. Considering recent research findings about the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) signals to detect tumors in tissue samples, Lauterbur realized that the information from NMR signals could be recovered in the form of images -- and thus obtained noninvasively from a living subject. It was an unexpected epiphany: he was eating a hamburger at the time. Lauterbur rushed out to buy a notebook in which to work out his idea; he completed his notes a few days later. He had discovered the basic method used in all MRI scanners around the world, and for this discovery he would share the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2003. This book, by Lauterbur's wife and scientific partner, M. Joan Dawson, is the story of Paul Lauterbur's discovery and the subsequent development of the most important medical diagnostic tool since the X-ray.With MRI, Lauterbur had discovered an entirely new principle of imaging. Dawson explains the science behind the discovery and describes Lauterbur's development of the idea, his steadfastness in the face of widespread skepticism and criticism, and related work by other scientists including Peter Mansfield (Lauterbur's Nobel co-recipient), and Raymond Damadian (who famously feuded with Lauterbur over credit for the ideas behind MRI). She offers not only the story of one man's passion for his work but also a case study of how science is actually done: a flash of insight followed by years of painstaking work.

Published by: The MIT Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

I first heard about the concept of NMR imaging from Paul Lauterbur one evening in December 1972 in midtown Manhattan. We were attending a biological MR meeting and, as a number of attendees returned to our hotel from a reception, I happened to be walking with Paul. ...

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pp. xi-xii

I thank my editors, freelance editor Linda Carbone, for helping to turn my scribbles into a book, and acquisitions editor Susan Buckley and senior editor Deborah Cantor-Adams of the MIT Press for refining that book. So many wonderful people have helped with this project by talking to me about Paul and the early days of MRI, ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

Thomas Huxley in his inaugural address on becoming president of the Royal Society in 1883 observed, “What an enormous revolution would be made in biology if physics or chemistry could supply the physiologist with a means of making out the molecular structure of living tissues comparable to that which the spectroscope affords ...

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1. Epiphany in a Hamburger

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pp. 1-10

On September 2, 1971, Paul Lauterbur was at the site of NMR Specialties, a company he had helped to found, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, when a potential customer showed up. In his attempt to save the floundering company, Paul had been flying to New Kensington at the beginning of each week ...

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2. Portrait of a Scientist as a Young Man

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pp. 11-26

Science is conducted in as many ways as there are scientists. What may be Paul’s most important gift is illustrated by an experience during his freshman year in high school. He was looking at a chemistry book and came across a description of how the carbon content of a substance being burned determines the color of the flame. ...

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3. Study, Work, and War

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pp. 27-46

In 1947, Edward’s advice to his college-bound son was to enroll as an engineering student. “Dad didn't know what a scientist could do,” Paul said, “but there was always work for an engineer.” So off he went to the engineering program at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, now a part of Case Western Reserve University. ...

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4. Early Breakthroughs

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pp. 47-66

Over the years, Paul received many awards and honors for his scientific work, almost all of them for his invention of magnetic resonance imaging in 1971. But some awards cite much earlier work, calling him “truly the father of heteronuclear NMR.” These were especially gratifying, because they acknowledge Paul’s early and lasting accomplishments ...

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5. The 1960s: Stony Brook, Stanford, and Spectrometers

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pp. 67-84

Paul left Pittsburgh in 1963 for the nascent chemistry faculty of Stony Brook. Shortly after Rose Mary followed, and their marriage ran into trouble. Rose Mary and Paul’s fifth wedding anniversary took place the day President Kennedy was shot. Rose Mary dates the beginning of her marriage problems and her illness from that time. ...

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6. The First Fruitful Weeks

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pp. 85-106

Life is so strange. It was because of the tortured history of NMR Specialties that Paul happened to be on hand to witness the experiments that raised in his mind the possibility of magnetic resonance imaging. Paul was always squeamish about everything medical and biological, everything that had to do with blood and other tissues. ...

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7. The Worldwide Laboratory

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pp. 107-124

There never was an old theory of MRI; it was born whole. Paul once gave a talk titled “Magnetic Resonance Imaging: Why It Takes So Long to Understand Simple Things.” From 1946, once the phenomenon of NMR was understood any knowledgeable person could have invented MRI, but until Paul no one had the clarity of mind or the creativity to realize its beauty. ...

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8. Baby Grows Up

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pp. 125-152

The British, Raymond Andrew's and Peter Mansfield's laboratories at Nottingham and then John Mallard's at Aberdeen, picked up first on Paul's new ideas about imaging with NMR and were largely responsible for its development in the early years. Things happened more or less this way. ....

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9. Among the Corn Fields

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pp. 153-178

Let me backtrack a bit to fill in the picture at home. We were married on July 3, 1984, on Long Island Sound, in a garden ceremony on a cliff overlooking the water. Nothing could have been more propitious, except perhaps the date of July 4, which Paul had wanted, so that the whole country would forever celebrate our anniversary. ...

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10. The End and the Beginning

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pp. 179-196

When I was a graduate student in the 1970s at the University of Pennsylvania, I knew a legendary figure who had made significant contributions to the study of mitochondria that he and many others thought was Nobel-worthy. Stories had it that every year when the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was announced, and not for him, he would come in late and be irritable for several days. ...

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pp. 197-200

Paul himself summarized his life as an experimental scientist, in reminiscences about his childhood laboratory in the basement of his parents’ home on the occasion of the Kyoto Prize ceremony: ...

Appendix A: The Notebook, September 1971

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pp. 201-210

Appendix B: Magnetography, October 1971

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pp. 211-232

Appendix C: Draft Disclosure, August 1972

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pp. 233-254


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pp. 255-268


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pp. 269-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780262316712
E-ISBN-10: 0262316714
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262019217

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013