Montana State University

Spring 2012

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Mountains and Minds

What's inside matters April 30, 2012 • Published 04/30/12

Hilary Fabich explains magnetic resonance imaging
Hilary Fabich grew up south of Livingston, the daughter of a game warden and a teacher. In what she calls "the best childhood possible," she had a passion for music and did such Montana things as help her father wrangle snakes and bears. While at MSU she played in the MSU Symphony in Southeast Asia, helped supply clean water to a village in rural Kenya with Engineers Without Borders and was introduced to engineering, eventually researching the properties of gels in MSU's Magnetic Resonance Lab. This spring she received MSU's first Gates Cambridge Scholarship, one of the country's most prestigious scholarships. While at Cambridge, Fabich will research cutting-edge techniques of magnetic resonance imaging with some of the world's top experts. Here she explains what is behind MRIs and how they may change our world.

How does magnetic resonance imaging work?
Magnetic resonance imaging uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of what is inside an object.
 Basically, magnetic resonance imaging works like this. Hydrogen, or a proton, is one of the most common atoms used in MR techniques. Due to its properties, it behaves like a small magnet. Protons are found on many molecules, including those in the body like water, fat and tissue. Subjecting these "magnets" to a larger magnetic field allows us to measure their chemical and physical environment as well as their spatial location. For example, the peel of a lime will appear darker in an image than the juicy segments in the middle as there is less water in the peel and the peel is denser, so the molecules do not move around as easily.

How do scientists think MRI technology will affect our future?
The most significant advantage to MR technology is that it allows a noninvasive way to look inside things. Many advances in MR technology have been implemented in hospitals for noninvasive diagnosis of disease. It is expected that the technology will continue to advance to provide more detailed, clearer information about the body. MR is merging into other fields and is used to study sea ice in Antarctica, map water reservoirs in remote areas, and even study the flow of water through tree trunks. As developments in this technology advance, it will become more portable and therefore more available for use in industrial processing where it could result in greater efficiency, using less materials or energy, by letting us see inside the technological process.