Honouring the inventor of the MRI scanner

At the age of 15, his teacher told him ‘that science wasn’t for him’ and shortly after, he left school. He later went on to invent the MRI scanner! 

Image credit: Sir Peter Mansfield

Image credit: Sir Peter Mansfield


Sir Peter Mansfield changed the world of medicine when he invented the MRI scanner in the 1970s. Since then, science has come a long way and resulted in the open MRI scanner! Here is his story: 

Peter Mansfield was born on 9 October 1933 in London, one of four brothers. He was evacuated from London twice during World War II and upon his return after the war, was told to take an 11+ exam which he hadn’t prepared for and failed. He went to school for a short while and then left to become a printer’s assistant. At the age of 18, he worked at the Rocket Propulsion Department for the Ministry of Supply until he was called up for National Service.

Mansfield returned from service two years later and studied his A-levels before going on to study physics at Queen Mary College, University of London. He became interested in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NME) and worked on projects at the University of Illinois and then Nottingham University. He obtained his BSc in 1959 and his PhD in 1962.

NME was originally only used for studying the chemical structure of substances until the work done by Mansfield and his partner Paul Lauterbur adapted it for the MRI scanner in order to produce images of the body.

The primary discovery made by Sir Peter Mansfield was how radio signals from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could be converted into images inside the body.

Some of the first MRI scans produced were of an okra seed pod and a lupin stem from Mansfield’s garden. The first ever live human anatomy scan was of a finger of one of his PhD students.

In 1978, the first ever MRI scan of a body was done – and he went in himself! A film of Sir Peter Mansfield going into the prototype shows him stating:

“The worst that could happen would be cardiac arrest!”

The first ever scan was of his abdomen, and many, many scans have been carried out around the world since then.

The technology used to perform open MRI scans was invented in 1982.

Recognising the inventor of MRI

Peter Mansfield worked at the University of Nottingham for 30 years as a professor, lecturer and doing research in the department of physics.

In 1993, Peter Mansfield was knighted for his service to phsyics! Then, in 2003, he became the first scientist from Nottingham to receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine alongside his partner Paul Lauterbur from the University of Illinois.

The University of Nottingham’s Imaging Centre and a tram in Nottingham are also named after him, and Castle Rock brewery brews a beer in his honour!

Sir Peter Mansfied passed away on 8 February 2017 at the age of 83. Professor Peter Morris, who worked with Mansfield when the MRI was being developed, said:

“If Peter believed in something, his belief was unshakable. The success that followed was beyond our wildest dreams. You showed the world MRI and we are all its beneficiaries.”

Today, approximately 100 million MRI scans are taken each year around the globe from around 36,000 MRI scanners! Their work continues to save lives every day around the world.


Newcastle Clinic offers open MRI scanning to patients from all across the North East of England, Cumbria and Scotland. The open MRI scanner has no tunnel and is much quieter than a standard MRI scanner, offering a better experience for patients who are claustrophobic or obese.