Science for You: MRIs for medical diagnosis

Technician helping man into MRI

Physicist Albert Overhauser (1925-2011) discovered what is now known as the Overhauser Effect, in which it is possible to line up, or polarize, nuclear spins at a much larger scale than previously thought possible. His discovery revolutionized the field of nuclear magnetic resonance, including MRIs for medical diagnosis.

As the citation when he received an honorary degree at the University of Chicago reads:

“Overhauser proposed ideas of startling originality, so unusual that they initially took portions of the scientific community back, but of such depth and significance that they opened vast new areas of science.”

Albert OverhauserOverhauser conceived of the effect in the early 1950s, but it was originally rejected by physics authorities because the idea was so unexpected. It wasn’t until after researchers Slichter and Carver were able to demonstrate the effect through experiments in 1953 that it was fully accepted.

Along with the MRI, the Overhauser Effect has been used in nuclear magnetic resonance for high-energy physics, chemistry and biology, to among other things, determine the structure of proteins and other molecules.

– Solomon Gartenahaus, Purdue Department of Physics and Astronomy,